A strike by employees of Pakistan’s national airline carrier has severely disrupted air travel in the country and stranded thousands of travelers around the world.

Employees of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) (including some pilots, flight crew and ground staff) have called the strike to protest the recent firing of employees allegedly because they opposed a code-sharing agreement that PIA is considering with Turkish Airlines. The strikers are opposed to the agreement with the Turkish carrier and are demanding the reinstatement of the fired workers.

Strikers also seeking the dismissal PIA's managing director, Aijaz Haroon, an airline pilot and reportedly a close friend of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari.

The strike continues, and it will continue until [Haroon] goes, Uzair Khan, joint secretary of the Pakistan Airline Pilots' Association (PALPA), told Reuters.

Under the proposed pact with Turkish Airlines, which remains subject to government and regulatory approval, PIA would give up some of its most profitable European and U.S. routes, including flights to Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Holland, Chicago and New York. A joint action committee of PIA employees warned that handing over these lucrative routes would deprive PIA of billions of rupees in revenue and threaten jobs at the airline.

Over the past three years, the managing director of the airline has failed to deliver and he must now go, said Sohail Baluch, the chief of PALPA, told Reuters. We demand of the government to scrap whatever deal the PIA is planning with Turkish Airlines and dismiss the [managing director], and replace him with a professional person.”

Amidst the cancellation of dozens of flights, there have been reports of scuffles between the strikers and PIA management at airports in Karachi and elsewhere, while some pilots and crew have been prevented from getting on aircraft.

Thousands of passengers have suffered. We are trying our best to ring up passengers of flights which are likely to suffer long delays and tell them to wait until our next call before they leave for the airport, a PIA spokesman told reporters.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered his defense minister to settle the strike urgently, and has called for a negotiated agreement between staff and management in the larger interest of the national carrier, his office said.

According to press reports, PIA has fallen on hard times in recently, plagued by declining profits, rising debts, mismanagement, and competition from airlines in the Persian Gulf.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, 2010, PIA reported losses of 4.79 billion rupees ($56-million) -- it’s third straight quarter of losses.

In November of last year, PIA requested that the government write off losses and debt of about $1.7 billion to save it from bankruptcy. However, the terms of a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) precludes such subsidies and spending.