Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mysterious plane spotted at Karachi airport


Yesterday had to make a quick dash to Lahore -- Took a PIA flight at 3 pm -- the plane reversed from the gate and was slowly taxiing to the beginning of the runway -- and i have a habit of looking out of the window as much as i can -- and i saw one of the PAF sheds on one side -- you can tell from its camouflage colours -- and in front of it were three unmarked jets -- with very few windows -- they did not have any tail design or colour -- one however had a blue and red marking on the fuesalage and it said 'meridian' -- saw the same plane when i got back to Karachi later that night. The plane that I saw is kind of identical to the one shown in the picture here. The issue is that it's not a military plane but a private one and hence the question arises that what is it doing at Karachi airport. (Juxtapose this with a well-researched and detailed report by Jeremy Scahill that appeared in The Nation in November 2009 of the presence of US private contractors in Karachi hired by the US government to keep track of the Taliban -- the story came in the American magazine The Nation and was never denied by Washington).

Did a Google check right now and some other research and it turns out that the plane which said 'Meridian' is owned by Meridian Airways, a charter company based in Accra, Ghana and Ostend, Belgium (odd given the two very different geographical locations). Also that its name used to Air Charter Express and that it had changed its name to Meridian recently. More digging revealed that the company flies for the British Ministry of Defence and is engaged in flying to Afghanistan and that one of the airports that is used is RAF Lyneham. Pictures on planespotting websites showed its fleet of planes at airports in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
The plane looked very similar to other aircraft that have appeared in news stories every now and then on the whole so-called 'rendition' programme in which the CIA uses private aircraft to ferry prisoners to various countries where they are then interrogated so that US laws regarding prisoners and torture don't have any bearing. Since the UK and the US are both engaged in Afghanistan and it is known -- at least to journalists who are interested in this region -- that Karachi is often used as a port where supplies are sent to the western armies in Afghanistan, the presence of such a plane at Karachi airport needs some investigation. Who came on it? What was it being used for? And how many such planes use Karachi airport in a week? A month? We are taxpayers and our taxes go to pay for installations such as Karachi airport and for the salaries of the air traffic controllers who interact and guide these planes to land -- surely we need to know --who is going to tell us this?

13 comments:

  1. great research !!!! awesome !

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  2. What! You came to Lahore and didn't tell me ;)

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  3. sorry man -- was there only for like three hours -- next time for sure !

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  4. Aah this was the day all flights to Karachi were fucked over. My sources said it was because of some military excercises near the Sindh-Rajasthan border. Bery fishy indeed.

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  5. But exercises WERE being held in Sindh and Punjab, involving both the Pakistan Air Force and Army Aviation. These exercises were scheduled at least a year in advance, and were announced in the press. When air sectors are being used for combat drills or intercepts, obviously civil flights will be delayed if they can't be re-routed. How is that "bery" fishy?

    Now let's come to this mysterious plane:

    "...i saw one of the PAF sheds on one side -- you can tell from its camouflage colours..."

    Actually, all sensitive air installations, civilian and military, including fuel tanks and main repair sheds, are camouflaged.

    "and in front of it were three unmarked jets -- with very few windows -- they did not have any tail design or colour"

    Most cargo jets have very few windows. Also, tail design and colour doesn't matter, a plane need only have a valid registration number that you would find just behind the wing, port and starboard. Did you bother noting down the registration?

    "The plane that I saw is kind of identical to the one shown in the picture here."

    Not kind of, but actually identical, because Meridian only operates DC-8s.

    "The issue is that it's not a military plane but a private one and hence the question arises that what is it doing at Karachi airport."

    Are private planes banned from Karachi airport? There would be an issue if they were freeloading and hadn't paid their CAA dues, but did this creepy, evil plane's owners violate any rules? Did you bother checking?

    "Did a Google check right now and some other research and it turns out that the plane which said 'Meridian' is owned by Meridian Airways"

    Whoa, srsly?

    "...a charter company based in Accra, Ghana and Ostend, Belgium (odd given the two very different geographical locations)."

    Really? Companies incorporate themselves in different geographical locations quite a lot, to dodge taxes etc.

    "The plane looked very similar to other aircraft that have appeared in news stories every now and then on the whole so-called 'rendition' programme in which the CIA uses private aircraft to ferry prisoners to various countries where they are then interrogated so that US laws regarding prisoners and torture don't have any bearing."

    It was 'similar'? That's the basis for you drawing a link to the CIA?

    "the presence of such a plane at Karachi airport needs some investigation. Who came on it? What was it being used for? And how many such planes use Karachi airport in a week? A month? We are taxpayers and our taxes go to pay for installations such as Karachi airport and for the salaries of the air traffic controllers who interact and guide these planes to land -- surely we need to know --who is going to tell us this?"

    How about the Civil Aviation Authority, which is also paid for by your tax money. With two phonecalls, you could've gotten a flight manifest.

    This is lazy, Shirin Mazari journalism at its worst. And you're simply spreading baseless fear and outrage. I'd excuse this if it was any other right-wing Chauda Agust blog, but your profile says you're an EDITOR at a national newspaper, with over a decade of experience. You don't have an excuse.

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  6. We live in the world between two extremes...
    one side is full of speculations
    the other side is full of denial...
    and these facts are evident in the post of anonymous.....pure denial

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  7. The otherside of extremism has given a very simple formula, just ask the Aviation Authority for logs and documentations about this Meridien Plane. Especially so, when the skeptic is holding a responsible position being an Editor in a national paper.

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  8. anonymous and khumayun -- thank you for your feedback but you would do well to remember that this is a blog not a newspaper report -- were it the latter it would have all the checking from the CAA and so on -- but anonymous one thing i will say, is that Meridian is used by the British Defence Ministry among other such agencies

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  9. So? What if it was transporting juice boxes or diapers? NATO and the US military regularly hire United, Delta and FedEx planes to transport everything from gaskets to bodies of dead soldiers. Every plane that passes through our airspace and/or lands on any of our airports/airbases discloses a full flight/crew manifest. This is particularly true for flights that are serving coalition operations in Afghanistan. Again, I ask you, why the alarm; what's so creepy about this plane?

    Which brings me to your blog/paper point. You have a responsibility because your position as an editor at a paper claims a certain credibility. And that responsibility applies online as well as to whatever appears under the banner of your publication. Consider that this post is sandwiched between editorials that are being written for your paper. Respected news and analysis blogs are just as finicky about their sources and information as traditional content.

    If you really want to use the blog for masala material like the above, you should post a disclaimer so that your paper's not responsible for what you publish here.

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  10. Dear anonymous,

    My credibility is quite intact -- I have 16 years experience in journalism -- read my profile -- and that is precisely why I raised this matter -- in my personal blog -- as I said were it to appear in a newspaper it would be get versions from various agencies and so on -- however, the suggestions made in the post are not without reason -- of course you are entitled to your own opinion and have the right to disagree -- and i wouldnt qualify this as 'masala' material -- people who know me know I am not that kind of a journalist

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  11. Mr. Qureshi, do admit .. you are either too schizophrenic or too vain to admit a significant lapse of judgment. If your professional values don't carry over into your "personal" blog, and vice versa, you can't really be much good at either. Now, will you censor this comment?

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  12. Pakistan has successfully create this airplane whose appearance is nice and that's a good idea.

    Web designing Karachi

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  13. Well reading above blog i have nothing else to say but this Mr Qureshi, you are wrong about this plane. i have been on that plane in person for my professional work, and it is surely a cargo plane which carries nothing but cargo and harmless cargo, if you think that this plane is of British M.O.D then let me tell you that british M.O.D doesn't trade in meat & clothes. and where as the matter of Belgium and ghana based company. then let me tell you that maridian airways is a belgian company which is resgistered in ghana so that they have to pay less tax. as in ghana operating an airline doesnot cost much as compared to belgium. please correct yourself and play the role of a responsible editor. and dont insist on being a foolish person.

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