The System And Us – Aasim Zafar Khan

The nation has finally awoken from a slumber of nearly 70 odd years. The straw that broke the camel’s back has at long last arrived, like the second coming of Christ. After a treacherous sea journey, the scout has finally screamed Land Ho! The shackles have finally been broken, and the long night is about to give way to a glorious day full of sunshine.

Yeah right.

Those are some of the rather impressive ways the entire Rehman Malik-PIA saga has been described and regardless of everything else, it’s now abundantly clear that Pakistan has some very gifted writers, with great command over the English language and a vivid imagination to boot.

What exactly happened on that fateful flight, an event I’m told (and am most afraid of) will retrospectively be to Pakistan what the self immolating street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi was to Tunisia and much of the Arab world?

Maintenance of the status quo. A domestic flight was delayed for a few hours, waiting for a couple of politicians. A few angry and vocal passengers decided that they’d had enough – and when the politician arrived, they did not allow him to board.

This is all very commendable, and I’d like to congratulate all concerned on a job well done. But answer me this: was it Rehman Malik’s fault? After all, the ex-interior minister was merely doing what all politicians do, that is, treating a state institution as personal property. Or was it PIA’s fault, for bending over backwards to facilitate unreasonable demands from political quarters?

Perhaps what would have made an even greater impact is if the passengers forced the PIA administration or whoever else to ensure that the flight took off, without waiting for the prized passengers? Sure, there would be trouble later – but they could have easily said, sir, the passengers would have killed us or whatever. The system is corrupt and weak, and is manipulated by those who can. That’s where the change needs to come.

There are numerous other examples of this VIP culture here in Pakistan. But one that perhaps everyone has experienced is the closure of traffic routes for politicians to pass. Now let’s put an example out:

It’s midday on a hot afternoon. The roads are busy with cars and motorcycles, rickshaws and buses. Seems like loadshedding since the traffic lights aren’t working and a large troupe of traffic wardens is busy at work. But suddenly it dawns that they’re here for another reason: creating space for a convoy to pass. As we all have experienced, this takes a little while, for the space is created not just at this signal point, but at numerous others to ensure a safe and quick passage for the VIP.

The waiting commuters start becoming antsy, screaming obscenities and tooting their horns. The wardens try to placate the situation, but it’s hot and the air conditioners aren’t working. A few guys get out of their vehicles and a visible argument ensues. At the same time, the VIP convoy approaches, complete with security guards armed to the teeth. One young Turk decides to up the ante, and with a strange revolutionary shout, starts to move his vehicle towards the convoy. Buoyed by him, a few others follow.

What happens next?

The possibilities are numerous, and none of them have a happy ending.

There’s another aspect to this. We the citizens are one of the major reasons the system remains corrupt. Most of us will try and manipulate it to our own advantage, and only when we can’t, like in the flight situation, we rebel. Take for instance, a traffic violation. Who hasn’t tried to bribe their way out of a situation where they would be forced to spend a significant amount of time in paying the fine at a bank and then going to the local kacheri to pick up their licence or ID card? There are many who don’t go this route. But there are many who do.

What about Nadra? You pay a paltry sum and no need to get in line and wait in the heat and amid the body odour. How about the local supermarket? People break lines and it’s alright. Neither the customer nor the teller complains. How about the local journalist who routinely flashes his or her press card to the cops and at toll booths? What about tax evasion?

These are but some of the examples of the role we play in ensuring the system stays as it is. The real debate ought to be about how to root out the inefficiencies in the system, for once it is robust the chances of it being manipulated decrease. There will always be those who will try. That’s just human nature.

So let’s start with ourselves first then, shall we? The system will improve if we improve. It will strengthen by our continuous questioning, so by all means, question those that run the ship. The easiest way out will be to target those who manipulate the system, but that’s like taking an aspirin for some pain, but going to see the doctor to investigate it’s source.

Thieves are clever. For every new defence mechanism you put up, they find a new way in. But for each new level of defence, the chances of theft decrease. The most clever of thieves may still get in, but the others: they’ll think, best to let this one pass.

That’s where we need to take the system. What happened on the PIA flight was commendable – really. But misdirected. Some will say, oh but it’s a start. Yes it is, but focus on where we want it to go, because once it gets out of control there will be no bringing it back.