Monday, February 13, 2017


One step forward, two steps back
A visit to a hospital is never a pleasure, but the reason for that absence of pleasure ought to be the illness that brings a person to the hospital, not the hospital itself. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it is. A simple visit to Jinnah hospital in Lahore to get polio vaccinations before travelling was a nightmare, although illness was not the reason for the visit.
You enter the hospital via the exit gate, which, in spite of the sign appears to be the way in.
Parking at Jinnah Hospital is – I don’t believe there is a word that would adequately describe the experience. ‘Nightmare’ seems gloriously inadequate. But let me tell you, I regret not tipping the parking attendant, an amazingly good-humoured, patient man, skilled at his job. The mess that was the parking lot was not his fault. There was simply no space for the cars present. He was getting people to double-park, asking them not to leave the hand-break on, or the car in gear, so that he could push the car up or down as required. I did as he asked. There was simply no other way. I was assured there was no parking either in or out of the hospital. Mind you, I was charged for that parking. All of thirty rupees.
You wonder what could be achieved if the armed forces of Pakistan would divert some of their budget into trivial things, such as health care for the masses, instead of into expensive killing machines.
In out-patients, at the Reception desk, there was the usual herd of Pakistanis falling over each other trying to get at the Receptionist. Not a sign of a queue anywhere in sight.
In today’s world, when man has got to the moon, when communications have reached the point they have, and medical science is what it is, queues in Pakistan remain what they always were, nonexistent. It is amazing that the people of a country fail to understand that to queue is to save time. Not the other way around.
This is also how it was at a recent trip into the Punjab countryside, where a ‘tralla’, a Chingchi rickshaw and a score of cars all decided to cross a bridge, but no one was willing to leave a lane free for the traffic coming from the other side. The resultant snarl took a good twenty minutes to clear. All because this nation does not believe in queues.
There’s an interesting bit in Khalid Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ in which Amir’s Baba says that, “There is no act more wretched than stealing – be it a life or a loaf of naan.” It is a simple truth. Even to kill someone is to steal from them, in the case of killing it is to steal their life, and to rob his/her family of a family member and his employer of a worker, and so on.
To refuse to queue is also to rob a person or several persons of their rightful turn, at a service, a product, whatever it is that is being presented at that point.
Providing health services is not easy. And it is expensive. Should it not be a priority to search for at least those aspects of a health service that can be improved without a great outlay of money?
As it so happens, teaching the public to form queues is one of those inexpensive things, and it can be implemented immediately. The other thing is to enforce a strict policy of cleanliness and against littering. It can be done. It has been done in other countries. In a hospital it is crucial. It only needs the will, and not much money.
Both these things are important. I’m not going to harp on cleanliness because everyone knows about that, particularly in the case of hospitals. Where hospital are concerned both queues and cleanliness save lives. Cleanliness for obvious reasons, and queues since it’s only when you wait your turn that everyone can be seen, without the need to push, shout, or negotiate a scrum.
The first thing is to convince hospital workers of this fact.
The second thing would be to enforce a queue at the point where it must be formed. Barriers? Personnel?
There was a time when Shahbaz Sharif as Chief Minister was obsessed with drivers not stopping their cars over the line at a red light. Traffic police had instructions to give tickets to anyone who so much as put a toe across the line. And drivers had got used to it. They didn’t put a toe across the line.
There was, and still is a rule (thank God) that marriage halls and hotel venues must end functions at 10.30 pm in Lahore. It is enforced, it is adhered to. People complained in the beginning but they’re used to it now, and they like it.
So it’s a question of enforcing this. Strictly, diligently, without exception. It won’t cost anything. And at least in a world where huge advances have been made, the people have Pakistan will have made one simple advance: they’d have learnt to form a line, and wait their turn. Because while I agree that CPEC is important, Trump is a worry, India is a pain, the Grammy’s are riveting and remittances have slipped, unless Pakistan concentrates on teaching its people this one little crucial thing, the country cannot progress. It’s like trying to write a computer software without bits and bytes.
When I came back to my car it was still unscratched. I wish I’d tipped that attendant.

Monday, February 6, 2017


What is achieved by arresting random persons and maltreating them?

Gangs of sex criminals have sexually abused both children and adults in Kasur for at least as far back as 2009.  The acts of abuse are recorded, and families of the victims blackmailed and forced to pay money to stop those tapes from being sold in this country and overseas. Many tapes are sold regardless. To add insult to injury it appears that these groups operate not in spite of law enforcement agencies but with their blessings, with patrons in political circles. Hundreds of children have suffered from this abuse for several years by now.
It is sacrilegious that such things should happen – and particularly in Kasur, the home and burial place of the Sufi saint Bulleh Shah – but they do. Kasur is also the twentieth most populous city in Pakistan.
In 2015 a police official was arrested. In this case his victim was not a child but a married woman who was drugged and raped. She was then blackmailed with the threat of making recordings of the rape public. When the woman informed the police the rapist fired shots at her house to force her to withdraw her complaint.
Also in 2015, two pedophiles were arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
While it is good that an example was made of these men, all this is obviously just the tip of the iceberg.
Some weeks ago the body of a five year old child was found in an under construction house in Kasur. She had been missing for four days, taken away from the street in front of their house. A post mortem revealed the little girl had been raped before being murdered.
When the fact that there are gangs abusing children and blackmailing their families was exposed some years ago, there was a public outcry. There was also a public outcry at the revelation that the police and public officials were supporting this abuse. As a result, when the body of that five year old child was discovered in the under construction house there appears to have been a swift reaction. Families residing in Kasur have spoken of men being taken into custody at random.  Hundreds of men appear to have been detained, some for weeks. They were beaten, and released, and others taken into custody, in what is obviously the response of officials keen to be ‘seen doing something’ about the problem.
This is what happens when there is no prescribed procedure for dealing with problems, or when a prescribed procedure is put aside. In an attempt to appease the public, officials indulge in such mindless ‘visible’ acts that make it seem as though ‘something is being done.’ You see it on the roads when there is a terror threat, when barriers are suddenly put up resulting in traffic jams hundreds of yards long. It is unclear what these barriers achieve since all that is done is that motorbikes containing men or boys are stopped and their documents scrutinised. What this tells anyone is unclear. What does, for example, a security man at the CSD find when he stops someone and glances at her identity card? Can he tell if that is a ‘wanted’ number? Can he tell if it’s a fake card?  Why would a terrorist be so insane as to use a wanted number or an obviously fake card? In the case of road blocks, women are generally peered at and waved through. Are women incapable of carrying out terrorist attacks? Why would terrorists employ only young, lower middle class males (excuse the stereotyping) on motorbikes to carry out their schemes? They’re terrorists, not fools.
So, going back to Kasur, what is arresting random persons and beating the bejesus out of them before letting them go likely to achieve? Would it not be a better idea to trace incriminating videos from sale point to source, meticulously, and discretely? Or to follow leads and reports,  because people have reported rape, blackmail and other such crimes, to follow those leads diligently and doggedly to some conclusion? This, if anyone remembers, is what the police is supposed to do, when it is genuinely keen to do something.
And most of all, would it not be an idea to make an example of criminals by sentencing them when they are located, so that others fear to tread where these people have gone? This is what justice is supposed to achieve.
Gangs and individual criminals proliferate like rats, in places that are considered to be congenial. This is not entirely the fault of the public but equally the fault of law enforcement, political and administrative officials. In any case there is a procedure by means of which a person may be apprehended and questioned. If this is not followed, and an Al-Ghraib like atmosphere is being created in a city in response to crimes which are providing some kind of perceived reason for such response – there is something seriously wrong with the laws and procedures of the country in which such things take place.