Thursday, November 12, 2009

Surviving in a dysfunctional state

The News, March 1, 2009


Surviving in a dysfunctional state

By Omar R. Quraishi

What do you do when you live in a country/society where standing up and doing things according to a system or the law is frowned upon and actually becomes a handicap? How many of us have waited – as any law-abiding civic-minded citizen would do – patiently in queue at a bank to pay bill or at NADRA to get our CNIC or passport only to see some people get ahead of us? This is particularly true of the immigration counter when one returns to Pakistan from overseas – perhaps it is also the first prompt reminder that we are truly back in the Land of the Pure – to find dozens of people even remotely related to an FIA constable posted at the airport getting their passports stamped first.

In fact this system, which rewards one's connections and ability to offer patronage, is evident the moment one steps out of the plane because you see all kinds of assorted flunkeys holding signs for various sahibs, generals, politicos and so on. In many cases, the sahib doesn't even have to carry his small brief case because that is what the minion is for – after all, if he can't even carry the sahib's small brief case then what use is he!

Then there are things related to one's work. How many of us are professional in their work and know the value of time? Do we call on people without a prior appointment, do we visit our relatives without at least first checking with them whether they are home and in a position and are we considerate about the disturbance being caused to other people by talking loudly or driving like a moron (something which all motorcyclists do in Karachi at least)? How many of us call business acquaintances at a time, which is clearly beyond normal office hours and expect them to talk to us and get offended if they don't?

As for waiting in line, and finding other people taking our turn, how many of us do what is right – and speak out and stop the person from doing this or at least admonish the official involved in the public dealing for not telling off the line jumper and asking him to go to the end of the line. I remember some 16 years ago, a week after I had returned from studies in the US, I had gone to pay our electricity bill. I got in line at the bank at around 9.30 am and till 11.45 my turn hadn't come. This was in 1993, when very few banks would take utility bills so the lines were often very long. As I waited and waited for my turn, this woman came and stood at the front of the line. For some reason, the public frustration, which I thought existed in ample quantity on this matter, was nowhere to be seen. Not even a single individual said even as much as "excuse me can you please wait your turn, like we have been waiting for hours!" and let this woman pass.

And the one person (yours truly, of course) who did protest at this blatant display of civic impropriety and utter disregard for the rules was told by the woman that "oh" he must have just come from America or something. The message being that in Pakistan no one plays by the rules. The most basic of these is to wait in line for your turn, under the simple-to-understand premise that people in public offices deal with people on a first-come-first-served basis. Also by doing so they adhere to a system that ensures that everyone's work is attended to.


In a response to my column ( on the presence of US drones on Pakistani territory I received dozens of emails and text messages. One email pointed out a blog and further commented, using the same picture that has been used in The News's report that the airstrip in question is in all probability STILL being used. The picture on the blog comes from this year and shows that three hangars – all circled -- have been built since 2006 (at that time they were not there at all or in very rudimentary form). The blogger says that the hangars are large enough to house drones. In fact, he also points out to three other triangular shapes – to the northeast of these hangars – which he says are containers used to transport drones. His blog – and for space reasons that picture can't be reprinted here – also has a satellite image of a US testing facility used by the company which manufactures the drones and it shows the same triangular objects.

Another blogger ( suggests that the structures in the 2009 image suggest a long-term use for the facility and also points out that the clam-shaped structure in the centre-right of the image is a common structure found at US military facilities. So are the Americans still using these facilities and is the Pakistan government still denying the obvious?

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email:

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