It is indeed a sad time for Pakistanis. The nation mourns the loss of the passengers on aboard Air Blue flight 202. May their souls rest in peace. While a hundred and fifty two lost their lives, the lives of hundreds more they leave behind have been altered, forever. May God give the relatives of the departed the strength to endure their loss.
This day was all too familiar. Four years ago, same month, we lost forty five people when a PIA aircraft crashed in Multan. My father was commanding the ill-fated plane. This was the sixth aircraft of its kind, in Pakistan’s aviation history, to have suffered this fate. Several reasons have been cited for the crash; slipshod overhaul and maintenance; ill thought-out flight schedules; extreme temperature s and poor visibility; faulty calibration instruments; unreported excess cargo (and this one doesn’t appear in the official cocktail of reasons, this is insider information); and pilot’s error. Let’s see then, the plane was cleared for take- off when it shouldn’t have been, there was more cargo than there should have been on that plane (crates of Multani mangoes for crying out loud!) which was apparently not reported on the trim sheet, the aircraft started falling apart right before lift-off, the engine catches fire, the pilots want to turn back and land but the visibility is poor so they rely on the control tower to guide them but the airport navigational aids are not quite in the working order they ought to be, hmmm I guess it was pilot’s error. I mean come on, the pilots should have checked each and every nut and bolt on the aircraft before deciding whether to fly it or not and while they were at it, they should have weighed the cargo as well and since they are two of them in the cockpit one of them should have extinguished the fire engulfing the engine, and of course which pilot in her/his right mind doesn’t check the state of the tower equipment? Isn’t that what they are paid for? The cockpit can take care of itself!
My point is, to this day, my family and I don’t know who or what was the main culprit. Civil aviation blames the airline management, the management blames the airport administration, the employees union blames flight services, the pilots association blames the engineering department and somewhere down the line, more appropriately in this game of passing the buck, the buck stops at the pilots. Convenient, they ain’t coming back to tell their side of the story. Suits everyone perfectly. But is this fair to the families of the departed? Is it fair to those who cannot come back to defend themselves?
I hope things are different this time, I hope, for the sake of those who died and those they left behind, the authorities involved will invest their efforts in identifying the real cause of the tragedy instead of looking for a scapegoat. What will actually happen only time will tell. What has happened in the past doesn’t give much hope but maybe, just maybe, this time business will not be done as usual and everyone responsible will be held accountable.
Which brings me to my muse; Cambodia. Before moving on, I must clarify what follows and the situation described above, are not similar. However what is common is the tragic sense of loss and hope for closure.
July 26, 2010, has become an important day in the history of Cambodia. This is the day the Extra Ordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), or the Khmer Rouge (KR) tribunal of crimes against humanity and war crimes, delivered its first verdict against a high-ranking official of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly referred to as (Comrade) Duch. Duch was the former chairman of the notorious S-21 prison camp (Tuol Sleng), right here in the centre of Phnom Penh, where approximately 14,000 people were tortured and killed under his watch. The court pronounced him guilty; 30 years after the atrocities were committed. He has been sentenced to 35 years of prison of which he will serve no more than 19 years, since the court deducted time he has already spent in incarceration. The time he spends in prison might be reduced further since he will be eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence, according to Cambodian law.
Has justice been served? The KR, at least Kaing Guek Eav, is a criminal in the eyes of Cambodian and international law. The Cambodia Daily (July 26, 2010) quotes one of the prosecutors saying, “This verdict sends out a powerful and unequivocal message that those who abuse their power…cannot act with impunity- they will be judged and they will be tried in the court of law…[this] is a day of hope and healing.”
Are the people healed? Judging by the press, they are not. The civil parties in this case had demanded at least 30 years of prison for Duch, free health care for life and erection of memorials for the victims. What they got was a 19 year jail sentence for the perpetrator and the right to have their names included in the final judgment along with the authorization to compile and publish an ‘expression of remorse’ by Duch (The Cambodia Daily, July 26, 2010). Given that the sentence for one murder under Cambodian law is 15 to 20 years, people’s disappointment is understandable. But the court has its reasons; the defendant’s expression of remorse, cooperation with the court and the fact that the crimes were not committed by Kian Guek Eav in his individual capacity, lead the court to mitigate the sentence.
Despite political opposition and doubts about the sustainability of the tribunal and its ability to deliver a meaningful judgment the trial has taken place and the tribunal has successfully delivered its verdict against the offender. Four more are expected to follow. This development should not, I think, be taken lightly. The appropriateness of the sentence will be seen in a different light by different people.
They say such trials lead to truth and reconciliation and bring closure to the suffering of victims. Do they? In part, I think. They do bring out the truth about the crime having taken place; a spade is called a spade. They do hold those responsible accountable for their crimes. They do alter the reality of the perpetrators, maybe not the same way as the lives of the victims were altered, but there is some retribution. Do they offer closure? Perhaps not. Perhaps even the severest of judgments cannot offer that. How can you shut out loss? Is there an emotional account that you can balance and close at the end of the year and not carry forward anything? There are some accounts you can’t balance I suppose, and you carry the loss with you, it changes over time, just like you do, but it doesn’t go away.
 Mango is not just a sweet bright yellow (sometimes with a greenish or reddish tinge) summer fruit; it has, in our country, acquired the status of a political fruit having been used as a dictator exterminator in the past and is an imminent tool of diplomacy if the Americans follow through with their proposition of importing Pakistani mangoes. Perhaps someone should look into political economy of mangoes, maybe I should.
 The tribunal was set up under an agreement between the UN and the Royal Government of Cambodia in May 2006. 7 Cambodian and 5 international judges are presiding over the present case.