International community flags Pakistan for airport security concerns

Islamabad: On May 1, Germany issued an advisory alerting airline operators of the possible security threats at airports in Pakistan. Security concerns around Pakistani airports have been a major concern for the international community. In the past, countries like the USA and France have issued advisories warning airline carriers of possible militant activity.

“There exists a potential risk to aviation at FIR (flight information region) Karachi (OPKR) and FIR Lahore (OPLR) due to possible attacks during landing, taxing, parking and take off at all airports. Civilian German operators are advised to take potential risk into account in their risk assessment and routing decision,” the German advisory stated.

Earlier, the German authorities had intimated that Pakistan’s recent conflict with neighbouring India in the Kashmir region, the concentration of terrorist groups and exchange of fire between armies of two countries across the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed Kashmir region poses a potential inadvertent risk to aviation at all altitudes, particularly around the Lahore airspace.

“The consensus among foreign authorities is to cross the OPLR/Lahore and OPKR/Karachi FIRs at higher flight levels. Diversion/Landing in Pakistan is recommended against. Avoid operating to OPPS/Peshawar and OPQT/Quetta airports, both are near the border with Afghanistan. OPKC/Karachi Airport was attacked in 2014,” German authorities said.

The Pakistani government hasn’t responded to the advisory. When approached, the Spokesperson of Pakistan’s Foreign Office refused to comment about the recent German advisory.

Steps should be taken: Diplomat

A western diplomat based in Islamabad told this correspondent on the condition of anonymity that Germany has a solid ground to issue advisory to its aviation Industry.

“We have seen in the past that conflict in Kashmir Valley has reflected both in India and Pakistan. India has been lucky to maintain law and order, keeping the militants at bay. However, in Pakistan, there have been attacks on airports, sea ports and even at security forces training centres. Pakistan has improved law and order over a few years. However, it still needs to put up more resources to make law and order at par with the West,” he said.

On April 9, France had issued a similar warning. “From 09/04/2020 and until further notice, French air carriers and aircraft owners registered in France are requested to ensure that their aircraft maintain at all times a flight level above or equal to FL260 in the airspace of Pakistan (OPLR FIR (LAHORE) and OPKR FIR (KARACHI),” an advisory issued by France stated.

Likewise, the United States of America had issued similar warnings in December last year.

“Exercise caution flying into or over Pakistan, particularly at low altitudes, due to the risk posed by small-arms fire, attacks against airports, indirect weapons fire and anti-aircraft fire by extremist/militant elements operating in the country,” a US advisory stated on December 30, 2019, regarding Pakistan.

It further added that there are continuing risks to the US civil aviation operating in the territory and airspace of Pakistan, particularly for aircraft on the ground and aircraft operating at low altitudes, including during the arrival and departure phases of flight, from various extremist/militant groups.

“Exercise caution when operating into, out of, within, or over the territory and airspace of Pakistan. With the ongoing presence of extremist/militant elements operating in Pakistan, there is continued risk to U.S. civil aviation from small-arms fire, complex attacks against airports, indirect weapons fire, and anti-aircraft fire, any of which could occur with little or no warning,” stated an advisory issued on 30 Dec 2019 by the FAA to Airmen (NOTAM).

The move from Germany comes about three months after the Pakistan’s Federal Minister for aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan dropped a hint of starting direct flight between Islamabad and Frankfurt

However, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Interior, Brigadier Ijaz Shah, told this correspondent that he was surprised to note that German authorities have issued such advisory for Pakistan’s airspace and airports since no German airline operates to and from Pakistan.

“I don’t understand what made them issue such an advisory as not a single German airline operates to and from Pakistan. Even no European airline except British Overseas Air Corporation is currently operating to and from Pakistan perhaps due to coronavirus threat. So, there’s no importance of German advisory at all. It’s a joke, so take it lightly,” the Interior Minister told this correspondent over telephone.

Shah added that law and order across the airports have been improved significantly.

Security at Pakistan’s airports

Airports in Pakistan have always been on the target of Taliban or Taliban-backed militants.

On June 8, 2014, militants attacked Karachi’s Jinnah International airport, Pakistan’s busiest airport, and killed 36 people including security men. The attack exposed poor security of airports nationwide. Pakistani authorities claim to beef up security by doubling the police pickets installed at the roads leading to airports and enhancing the number of security men deputed at all the gates of airports.

At the same time, the security equipment installed at airports in Pakistan have always been under strong criticism.

In 2015, Civil Aviation Authorities installed locally made high-tech control room at a cost of $2.5 million, at Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore. “We have ensured fool-proof security across airports and still improving it,” Brigadier Ijaz Shah told this correspondent.

In September 2016, Pakistan installed modern scanners and sophisticated Airport Security Equipment worth US$ 20 million at three international airports at Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to ensure enhancing security measures at these airports.

Pakistan is still using ADE-651 bomb detecting device produced by ATSC in the United Kingdom. The manufacturing and export of ADE-651 detectors was stopped after a media expose shown the devices unfit for such role.

Questions are being raised on the ‘Khoji’ bomb detectors that replaced ADE-651 detectors at some airports. Last year on December 26, 2019, Sindh High Court (SHC) directed Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to make necessary arrangements for obtaining equipment or technology for the Airports Security Force if the explosive detector currently in use at the airports known as Khoji, is required to be revamped. The petitioner in the case had alleged that though the UK government banned the export of ADE-651, the Airport Security Force and the Civil Aviation Authority took over the manufacturing and sales of the same device and named it Khoji.

Tension along LoC

Sources informed that the recent German advisory to its aviation industry has arisen out of tussle over disputed Kashmir Valley in Himalayan region, between nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours Pakistan and India.

Armies of both Pakistan and India regularly exchange fires across the LoC, an international boundary, which has been stretched between Pakistan and India.

Tension across LOC is recently running high between Pakistan and India after Indian security forces gunned down Riyaz Naikoo, a senior leader in Hizbul Mujahideen, a banned militant group, earlier this week. India has always blamed Pakistan for supporting militant organization, a charge which Pakistan has denied several times. Indian security forces claim that killing of Naikoo is the most significant victories.

Defence experts say that the recent standoff between Pakistan and India may transform into a fierce fight which may impact the overall security situation in Pakistan and India.

“With masses coming out to streets and roads in the Kashmir Valley, and India constantly blaming Pakistan for aiding militants in Indian held Kashmir, the security situation in the entire Himalayan region is very bad. It has brought two nuclear-armed states on the verge of another war,” Mustansar Abbas, an Islamabad-based defence and security expert said.

(The author is Islamabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)

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