Over the top - Masood Hasan - Sunday, March 06, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=34694&Cat=9

While the rest of the world is heading towards simplifying things, we seem to have become global experts in the art of complicating things. Partially, this springs from too many people doing too little and partially, because the national mindset thrives on creating as many difficulties as possible for the next person. Efficiency in Pakistan in any area is now just as alien a subject as what Martians have for brunch.

Consider this. A routine visit to the UAE by PIA becomes a mystery that a 100 Holmes may not be able to solve. Most people know that visiting the UAE is pretty smooth. There is an excellent system in place which entails issuance of a visa by the hosts or sponsors followed by getting an airline ticket and arriving in the UAE where a fast-processing procedure ensures you are out of the airport in a trice.

However, why should this be simple? So last week some friends travelling to Dubai went through a roller coaster ride as the national airline, the travel agents and any number of ‘helpful’ officials ensured that no one could quite determine whether they were going or coming or both.

A new animal has been added to make the entire business totally confounded. Called ‘OK to board’ this is a magical stamp that needs to be affixed on the visa first by PIA in Dubai and then presented to PIA in Lahore or wherever you are departing from. You can then board the flight. No one seems to know precisely what you actually need.

Logic demands that if a valid visa has been issued – and this travels via email now and is usually no longer faxed, it has been issued once immigration authorities in Dubai have cleared your passport. This means that this is a valid document. Why should the authorities here also demand that PIA Dubai place an ‘OK to board’ stamp which should then be presented to PIA in your city of departure whereupon another stamp of ‘OK to board’ will be affixed on the visa? It defies sense and the pity is that no one seems to know actually what is and is not required. Most people don’t have offices and secretarial services, even fewer have scanners or printers, and email, while getting popular, is still in its early stages. So how in the world do they manage this labyrinth of utter nonsense?

Even worse, the more you ask, the more confusing the situation becomes. Some say, you “should” have it – others say you “must” have it. When these questions are put to squads of PIA officials the answers are even more complex. “It has to be there otherwise you can’t board,” to “you can board but it is better you have the OK.” What is this? To the best of my knowledge PIA has neither properly briefed its hundreds of retail agents and certainly never put out a clear cut advertisement to clear the foggy air.

Instead, people stumble about, unsure, unhappy, tense and worried. In the case of my friends they had to ask their hosts in Dubai to get the dreaded ‘OK to board’ stamps on a flight that was originating from Lahore! That task took well over five hours because staff over there had gone to say their prayers and the office had closed over here.

If that is not enough, airport-negotiations are extremely complicated and taxing matters. Your documents and baggage need to be checked by any number of people. Different people check the same thing with intelligence radiating from their faces much as it may from a sodden turnip left out in the rain. You go through checks repeatedly and it seems that each layer operates on the principle that the previous layer is untrustworthy. The customs wish to know what is what and then also throw in the latest in terms of sweet and sour gossip – the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan episode or how to raid the cookie jar and get caught.

The PIA counters are reasonably well managed but fixing tags on everything in sight which are then stamped, punched, stamped, scrutinised and stamped while the holder dances out Swan Lake, is bewildering and absolutely useless. In the space of ten feet you may be checked by about 10 people and just when you think you are about to get into the aircraft, up springs a Johnny literally out of the woodwork who wants to know who you are and why you are going where you are going?

The question is why must he be told since the traveller has more stamps and tags on him than a dog has fleas. And so it unfolds in the daily travails of the common folk whose only mistake was that they were born here. It can be safely said that at least two thirds of the country does no work but repeat what the one third have already done while stifling yawns and scratching their nether parts. Organisations such as PIA are sitting ducks because the level of over-staffing puts sardines to shame.

Which brings one to the other ridiculous pantomime all of us suffer daily. The security checks that pop up faster than pimples on a dirty boy’s behind. What exactly is the ‘brief’ given to the wood-faced goon squads who man these monstrosities? Are only those with an advanced sixth sense selected for these duties and how are these mind readers able to peer into a vehicle light or dark and arrive at the conclusion that the inmates are not terrorists? What are they told to ‘look for’? Could it be, “look for suspicious people”? How do they determine whether a person is or isn’t suspicious? And what logic drives the commanders to issue broad edicts that proclaim, “all vehicles with one female or more is clear.” From where is this impossible wisdom gleaned? Is there a general rule that puts question marks on anyone sporting a beard?

I personally believe there is no system in place. It’s just another colossal waste of funds in a country where whatever money has not fled its shores has been efficiently gobbled up. But ‘security concerns’ is the big catchword for making tonnes of money. Under the guise of a security umbrella that is leaking like a broken piss pot, any amount of funds are being diverted all the time to recruit more people, create more hurdles and make the lives of the people more miserable. It’s a diabolical plot and no one can stop it because there is no real concern about security – just a stupid exercise carried out without any accountability or performance evaluation.

That would also explain to those still confused why not a single terrorist has been hauled up, sentenced and hanged. And I wouldn’t quite hold my breath on that one. This week the killers gunned down a simple humble man in broad daylight – it might have been the dead of night for all it mattered and then sped away unchecked ‘towards Faizabad’ as one witness described it. The PM dashed to see his slain minister flanked by the shimmering presence of Mr Malik, while two wretched citizens of this land wept their hearts out to a PM who played the grieving card and offered to resign.

He should not have asked. He should have just done it. If this would destabilise the country why doesn’t Mr Malik offer to resign since all that happens on his watch is that more and more get killed and less and less get caught? But then why should he? This government is willing to abandon all who have stood by it – and will continue doing so. That’s the mandate.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

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