Tortures of the Daily Grind
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

At the macro level we are inundated with fast-paced developments at the national and international level and every week there is something disturbing to comment upon. Whether it is Mr. Blair's aggressive state of self-denial on the fallout of Iraq on the British citizenry; or Mr. Bush's instant wrecking of a painstakingly-devised and US-spearheaded non-proliferation regime as a result of his Administration's nuclear agreement with India; or the US Administration's pathetic efforts to quell Pakistan's legitimate and serious concerns over the Indo-US nuclear deal with the supply of two old albeit refurbished F-16s at supposedly nominal cost; one is compelled to comment and critique these developments that impact Pakistan's national interests. In fact, some developments go beyond simply undermining our national interest and actually mock at our sensibilities. The F-16 decision falls in this category.
These "refurbished" F-16s, were probably out-of-use planes that will now be given a new lease on life! At the end of the day, no matter how “refurbished" the fighter plane, it is not a state-of-the-art machine and in the case of the F-16s, one can be sure that what we get in terms of weapon systems on the plane will be at least a degree less than the capability the US builds into the Indian forces. As for the quantity, this truly ridicules Pakistan, coming as it does in the face of the massive defense and nuclear deals the US has signed with India. Finally, the declaration that these two planes are coming to us at "nominal costs". We really do have short memories otherwise we would remember that we have paid an enormous amount of money for F-16s which we never received. This money was never returned to us because we were compensated for the financial loss with the supply of wheat and soya beans! So it was not just the F-16 manufacturers that benefited but also the hard-pressed US farmers. Therefore, let us not have any absurd talk of "nominal cost".
To get back to the point made at the beginning, all these developments cannot go without a comment. However, there is another issue that also requires urgent comment and that is the micro level daily grind for even the middleclass citizens in this country. There is a tortuous labyrinth of bureaucratic hurdles and corrupt practices that have to be overcome in order to complete the most mundane tasks.
Take the case of the district courts at the lowest level of litigation. It is not a question of adverse decisions as much as one of getting no decision at all. One can go on for years with judges not showing up when they are due to give a decision, or with new dates being given because one party consistently fails to show up. I realized the despair and frustration felt by those with no connections in the right places when I came across a widow and her daughter who have been trying for the last six years to get part of their duplex vacated. This time round, the judge was to finally deliver a verdict but, to no one's surprise, he simply failed to show up. Yet this is a case which really requires no great deliberation. The tenant not only proved difficult in terms of rent payment but destroyed the structure of the property by unapproved alterations in order to use the residential premises for commercial purposes. This is none other than a swanky furniture showroom which attracts many influential clients.
Perhaps it is time the civil society, especially the influential clients, take stock of the harassment being perpetrated by this business on a helpless family and boycott it. Clearly, the district courts are not going to give any justice. Why CDA has failed to take any action is equally incomprehensible since they have issued summons to the business many times.
In some fields we are told that we have moved into the high-tech twenty-first century. For instance, we now have machine readable passports. But anyone who has tried to get this passport will tell you it is sheer hell - especially in the summer. In Islamabad, the Aabpara passport office is congested and suffocating, and since children also have to be present in person, families have to go through hours of torment to get a basic document. The minimum time, if one is lucky, is a wait of over two hours. Of course, since VIPs, including senior bureaucrats, do not have to go through this torture - they have another office especially for their convenience - who is bothered about the plight of the ordinary citizen?
As for dealing with the police - this is a torture that few would wish to go through unless they have very strong connections. In the latter case, you can literally get away with murder. In this connection, the boorish behavior of the traffic police has been inflicted on almost all of us at one time or another. For instance, just the other day, a traffic cop practically broke the windscreen of a new car simply to inform the driver that a car could not be on the road with an "Applied For" placard instead of a number plate. How is one to drive the car from the showroom to one's home then? Surely the cop should have first checked whether the car had been driven past the mileage allowed for this sticker.
Which brings me to the whole issue of the registration of new cars. In Islamabad getting a license plate is a major ordeal since computerization. First, the man taking the money for registration and number plates charges Rs 200 for a Rs 100 Red Crescent ticket. Given the easy leasing facilities now available, imagine the money being raked in simply on this one scam. Then there is no certainty when one will get the number plate because someone in AJK seems to have been given the contract and he is in no hurry to deliver. As for the registration book, without influence it can take anything from over one month to maybe four - and since the books also seem to be in short supply, only the lucky ones eventually get the book. Others have to make do with a slip of paper and I know some folk who have been carrying this for the last three years!
These travails are just the tip of the iceberg of the torment Pakistanis have to endure in their own country, as part of their daily routine. And I have not mentioned the harassment to be undergone in a futile attempt to rectify over-billing of utility charges. Of course, all these are not problems for those who can afford passports, cars and utilities. For those who are unable to get even clean water, life is merely a struggle for basic survival. We are looking at the problems created by religious extremism in response to perceived injustices across the globe. But for our society, it is the growing polarization between the privileged and underprivileged and the increasing juxtaposition not just of wealth and poverty but influence and the blatant use and abuse of it.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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