Remembering Junaid Jamshed and many others

  • Who is responsible for this loss?

Junaid Jamshed’s tragic demise in an air crash conjured up my entire childhood right before my eyes. I was in the capital city last year attending a national-level convention’s session when the gruesome incident occurred and the haunting news broke. The day’s hectic session had ended and everyone sans I was heading towards rooms; I was busy in drafting the day’s news briefing along with the council’s secretariat. Work commitment demands aloofness from the surroundings, following which principle we switched on our mobiles only after having completed our tasks. It was then that we got to know about the plane crash near Havelian that had consumed the lives of all on board.

The ill-fated flight PK-661 en route to Islamabad from Chitral was carrying over 45 people and was reportedly seen on fire before hitting the ground. Scale of the loss would not have been less by any degree in the other case but was surely more evocative owing to Junaid Jamshed being among the dead. Yes, our very own dearly loved JJ whom we remember as a bearded singer-turned-preacher. But the kids and youth of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s hark back to a different set of memories associated with him. The delightful sight of a band comprising young boys singing Dil Dil Pakistan and raising its illustriousness to an altogether new pinnacle of fame by making it Pakistan’s unofficial pop anthem and the world’s third most favourite song ever as rated in a global poll conducted by BBC World in 2002.

An interesting aspect of his life that caught the glare of publicity after his departure was him being the son of a Group Captain in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and his own aim to become its part as a fighter pilot. His weak eyesight could not forestall his loyalty and devotion and he briefly worked as a civilian contractor and engineer for the PAF before pursuing his career in music. The patriotism that ran in his blood was aptly reflected in other scores sung by him, including Hum hain Pakistani, Tera karam maula and Qasam uss waqt ki, a tribute by Jamshed to the PAF and our jawans. He always kept his eyes on the sky, he flew high and he was surely destined to breathe his last in an unwonted manner.

The transformation, however, is the most mooted feature of his life. I did not realise the importance of this metamorphosis until it was time to memorialise our sentiments for him on his death – whether to warble his songs or recite his nasheeds. I, being an individual who had just realised what life really is, so transient and fragile, rushed to my room, offered my Isha prayer, switched on the television and watched the news and special reports on the deadly crash and Jamshed’s life. Something was aching deep inside. I wanted to address the twinge but was unable to agnise it. On spur of moment, without realising what words I was uttering and what actions I was doing, I started snapping my fingers and intoning Na tu ayege. By the time I reached the hotel’s lobby I was humming the tune of Aitbaar. There I found sitting several members of the convention who, too, were in immense grief. And we sat all night remembering Junaid Jamshed in the most befitting manner we could think of – by singing all his songs and sharing with each other our childhood memories.

The ill-fated flight PK-661 en route to Islamabad from Chitral was carrying over 45 people and was reportedly seen on fire before hitting the ground

Nevertheless, we soon realised that his loss was not the only one and the lives of 46 other people who had died in the crash were equally important. The next day started with special prayers for all followed by two-minute silence after which we discussed the shady dynamics of the whole incident: the causes of this crash, in particular, and all those before it, in general, and the reason why all the investigation reports lead to nothing. The discourse unearthed facts too bitter to acknowledge and accept.

Our aviation history is dark, with 18 major air crashes, either within the boundaries of Pakistan or involving Pakistani planes, and a cumulative toll of over one thousand fatal casualties. Starting from the latest, why was ATR 42-500 given green signal to fly without thorough detection and rectification of detects when majority of its aircrafts, in words of the plane’s first officer as reportedly mentioned to his mother, “are not fit to fly and should not be allowed to operate on dangerous routes”? A direct vindication of this lies in the refusal of another PIA pilot to fly an aircraft with a faulty engine just two days after the crash. Engine failure is not an unpredicted and out-of-the-blue fault; it shows its signs and symptoms way before the occurrence of tragedy just like any other disorder. Then why are these indications left unnoticed? We hope that the loss of these 47 lives teach us the lesson we having been yearning to learn since long.

Bhoja Air Flight 213 that crashed in bad weather back in 2012 during its approach to Islamabad airport is yet another tale of negligence on the part of aviation authority and training of crew. The final investigation report released by the Civil Aviation Authority held ineffective management by the cockpit crew of the basic flight parameters, airspeed, altitude and thrust management to quote few, as the primary reason behind the crash. As per the report, “the pilots had inadequate flying experience, training and competence level in the aircraft”. Then who allowed the airline to play with the lives of 127 people on board?

The deadliest air accident of all times, as it is considered to be, struck Airblue Flight 202 which crashed in the Margalla Hills on 28 July 2010, killing 146 passengers and six crew members. Allegedly there was “nothing wrong in conversations between the pilot and the Islamabad control tower that suggests anything was wrong”; however, multiple EGPWS “TERRAIN AHEAD” warnings were recorded on the black box starting 40 seconds before the crash. A witness reported to have seen the plane losing its balance and then going down. As claimed by another one, the aircraft was seen “flying as low as the four-storey building”. Among the fatalities were six members of the same forum which I was attending last year on this day.

Who is responsible for this loss? Who is to be blamed? Have investigation reports of any of the aforementioned crashes been a word of caution for those whom we trust with our and our beloveds’ lives? The lesson is yet to be learnt as is indicated by a video clip shared by a PIA passenger wherein leakage from the aircraft’s engine could be visibly seen during the flight. “During the flight, I could see on my left side some liquid dripping out of engine and near the wing.” His calling to attention resulted in the flight reaching its destination 15 minute before the estimated time of arrival. Withal, his concern was addressed with severe castigation by a crew member who “instead of being concerned about the complaint… was more concerned about my video”. With such ‘dedication’ and ‘sense of responsibility’ we surely are destined towards more and more calamities and remembering more and more Junaid Jamsheds. The only thing we, as citizens of Mulk-e-Khudadad, could wish for is the realisation that we choose our own path because the only verse I can think of on this day is “Hum kyun chalen uss rah par, jis rah par sab he chalen.” Rest in peace everyone, for that world is surely more peaceful than this one.