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‘The times are a changing’ in Pakistan

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Tariq Masood Malik

The bad bleeds. And that which bleeds — unless plugged — leads in the news business. Plugging is what we have been badly bad at historically. History cannot be disowned. Or can it be? Now what cannot be disowned must be faced.

Owning up a muddled history is made easy when we look for some small little snippets of care, success and order around us.

Not all is bad with our country, Pakistan. Compare now with how things were a decade ago, and you would know what I mean.

Take the capital city, Islamabad for example. A quiet, leafy town away from the humbug of all the urban hassle saw, in 2007, some police pickets cropping up on various busy roads of the town.

Considered impregnable until then, it became a city besieged. Bomb blasts had become almost an everyday reality in the country. The deadliest of all took place on Islamabad’s streets and in its mosques, hotels and courts.

Nothing worked yet life trudged on with difficulty though.

As if that wasn’t enough, public offices in the town were a nightmare for a common citizen. Excise and taxation office where literally hundreds of vehicles were registered every hour was in the clutches of ‘agents’ who in cahoots with the officials offered to get the job done for a sum.

Queues were long and output was low. A cramped space in the labyrinthine alleys of the district courts housed the facility. Neighbourhood aflush with cons outshone every other business in complicating the simple and convoluting the straight. Securing justice was as difficult as negotiating the sharp turns on the way from a lawyer’s chambers to a judge’s court. The very architecture impeded.

Extraction and corruption understandably spilt over to the E&T office as well.

As long lines snaked out on the nearby unshaded roads, dealers managed to sneak in files through shady deals with the officials, both high and low. People suffered while officials prospered. Connection, currency and the muscle worked in favour of those who had them. A threesome possession made a lethal mix. Anyone thus prized walked with a certain swagger twirling moustache, careful not to wrinkle his freshly starched white attire. Some, on their way out fanning themselves with the newly gotten registration letter, elbowed the queued-up, sweating poor fellows craning their necks over the next shoulder for a view of the window behind which stamps were being affixed.

Lately, some improvement has been observed in the department’s functioning.

First, it’s relocation from the district courts to Sector H-8 has afforded it a better organised and spacious infrastructure. Although parking for the registration seekers is almost non-existent. Resultantly, roads adjacent to the office remain clogged for normal traffic. This requires immediate attention from relevant quarters.

Some rudimentary form of security check is also in place at the entrance which is better than having none. However, still better arrangement than a half-hearted frisk would not hurt.

Inside, queues though longer than ever (partly explained by the rising purchasing power of the ‘middle class’) before disappear almost as quickly as they form. Or am I exaggerating? Information is available for the asking. Besides, sensible signage every step of the way helps a great deal. Barring a few exceptions, discipline is maintained on both sides of the numerous counters.

Last week, when I went to get my vehicle registration, all it took was filling out a couple of forms, the requisite fee and an hour-and-a-half of wait in the queue under a shade with a functional fan. Women and elderly were treated with even greater respect on a designated counter where they were entertained the moment they put their purse on the counter slab or propped their staff in the corner.

The same was true of my visit to a regional passport office a few months back. Public services are getting progressively better. Hospitals are doing fairly well. Metro bus is a huge relief for twin cities’ commuters.

Pickets in the town are fewer as the watching is mostly done through CCTV cameras. Sitting in a city square is no longer a scary experience.

For this change, someone somewhere deserves a credit. Perhaps we all do. For anyone considering this a minuscule change, some sage has said: “Traveler, there is no path. Path is made by walking.”

So let’s keep walking to turn this trail into a path.

The article was originally published on www.peoplespost.pk. We are publishing it on The High Asia Herald pages with the permission of the writer. The writer is a freelance journalist and blogger. He can be reached at <[email protected]>

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