Cellphone videos of the anti-VIP mutiny on PIA’s Karachi to Islamabad flight PK 370 have become a viral sensation, even in India. The flight was originally scheduled to take off at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15 but was delayed, according to the government, by 90 minutes because of technical reasons and another 25 minutes because of Sen. Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s former interior minister, who was running late. The passengers revolted and, through their jeering, forced the also-tardy Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a lawmaker from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), off the plane. When Malik finally made his way toward the plane, he was forced to turn back as angry passengers shouted at him. Malik’s party members have claimed this was a conspiracy, replete with allegedly inebriated passengers and plants from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, to defame the senator and his Pakistan Peoples Party. This is stretching it. We recently spoke with Karachi-based Arjumand Azhar Hussain, one of the mutiny leaders and who has worked in the hospitality sector and for PTV, about the extraordinary scenes from PK 370 that most Pakistanis view as inspirational. Excerpts:
The scenes you filmed have been hailed by most Pakistanis and inspired an anti-VIP campaign in India. Did you expect this act of rebellion to become so widely appreciated?
No, I really did not. God has His own plans, and maybe I was chosen for this particular thing. I’ve been thinking my whole life, when are we going to change this VVIP culture? I want to leave, in my own humble capacity, a better Pakistan for my kids.
What convinced you to take a stand and confront the two politicians?
I’ve taken this stand several times before. I was driving one night from Peshawar to Islamabad and right behind me was this car with about six floodlights on—essentially blinding me and people on the opposite road. Eventually the car overtook me. I chased after it and told the driver to pull over. I saw that the car belonged to a judge. I got down and said to him, ‘Sir, do you realize you’re a judge of the Supreme Court and you are breaking the law?’ He said nothing. He smiled, seemed a little embarrassed but didn’t do anything. I have been on many flights which faced delays because of politicians, chief ministers, generals, judges. I just always sat there thinking that one day it has to stop.
How do you end the undue privilege accorded to VIPs?
We have to change our attitude, and fight back every time and on every front. If you’re in a queue at a bank, make sure you and others follow it. If you’re in an aircraft and you see somebody delaying the plane, stop him, immediately. This must continue, and it will continue. I’ve heard that [the prime minister’s daughter] Maryam Nawaz Sharif was also given the same treatment [as Vankwani and Malik] recently, so it’s already started. The bullet has been fired. I don’t know whether the protests in Islamabad will change anything or not, but somehow I think the entire pattern is beginning to change.
The PPP has suggested that you and the other protesting passengers may have been put up to it by Imran Khan’s PTI.
Not at all! The PTI wanted me to come to their demonstration [in Islamabad] and I said, Sorry, I’m not a political worker. I’m not affiliated with the PMLN and certainly not with the PPP, obviously. I’m not even a supporter of Tahir-ul-Qadri. I’m just an ordinary Pakistani. I’ve been getting compliments and messages of support on Facebook. People keep calling me and children have come up to me asking for a picture.
Not everyone has celebrated your actions on PK 370. Some have criticized the mutiny as ‘vigilantism’ and ‘mob justice.’ Is this fair?
You can call me a vigilante or anything else you like, but I’m not going to lie down and take it anymore. The Quran tells us, categorically, that you have to protect yourself and your family. The government and the system are not giving us what we need, whether it is security or clean water or even an on-time flight. So we have to do things for ourselves or at least for the next generation. The power of the individual is paramount. It took a Rosa Parks to change everything in the U.S.
Who do you hold responsible for the flight delay that day, PIA or the politicians?
Oh, absolutely the politicians. PIA people shake in their pants when a VIP comes in. I have seen this with [PPP’s] Khurshid Shah, I have seen this with judges, and I have seen this with generals. Just wait and see: flights will take off on time because now every aircraft will have a ‘vigilante.’ They will have another person who is like me and will ask questions about why passengers are being made to wait. PIA’s inefficiency is, of course, another matter.
What was the flight crew’s reaction to the mutiny?
A stewardess told me that the delay was because a few passengers were late. Then another crew member whispered in my ear that we were waiting for Mr. Rehman Malik. You’ve seen what happened next. The crew was extremely happy that we said and did something. They told me that they were fed up with this [VIP] attitude and the flight delays it causes. They all thanked me once we took off.
Why was it so important to film these events?
When the law doesn’t work, when the judicial system doesn’t work, when Parliament doesn’t work, then you’re only left with one way of dealing with problems: the media. Today’s media is more powerful than Parliament and we’re going to continue using it until we achieve some sanity in this country.