A transition gone awry —Syed Mansoor Hussain

Many moons ago, the editorial pages of this newspaper were seized with the debate between transformationists and transitionists. The former wanted an immediate transformation from the then quasi-military dictatorship to a full and unrestricted democracy. The latter however believed that the change would, out of necessity, be a gradual transition that did not upset the entire apple cart.

In this debate, my sympathies were definitely with the transitionists.

I once compared the process of ‘transformation’ to stepping into a fictional Star Trek-style ‘transporter’ in Lahore, and with a ‘beam me up, Scottie’ and a flick of a button, arriving in New York City.

The transitionists I compared to those who took a PIA flight from Lahore to New York and underwent all the indignities of the Homeland Security-types and delays by PIA but eventually ended up in New York City.

Now that a democratically elected government is in place, it is time to revisit that debate.

My recent trip to New York via PIA is perhaps again an appropriate analogy. I arrived at the Lahore airport, checked in and sat down to wait for the flight to take off. Boarding was delayed by more than an hour even though the plane had arrived from Karachi on time. The cause for delay was a missing passenger from Karachi. After considerable conniption it was found that the missing passenger was in her seat all along!

After arriving more than an hour late at Manchester, extra time was spent parking the plane on the tarmac and bussing all the passengers in. When it came time to take off, two passengers were missing. Another wait. Finally, these two turned up an hour later. They had probably hit the bar at the terminal and sort of forgotten about the plane.

We arrived a few hours late at JFK, throwing the transit passengers into a tizzy since many of them had missed connecting flights. But as we were waiting for our luggage, people voluntarily formed a human chain to lift each other’s baggage off the carousel. Perhaps Pakistanis can actually cooperate and help each other out in times of need.

As I thought more about this PIA incident, I realised that even though the passengers can delay a flight, it is the engineers who examine the plane and the pilots who fly it. They are then really responsible for getting us to our destination. The plane called Pakistan seems to be ready to take-off. The engineers have done their job, the passengers are ready to go, but the pilot and the co-pilot evidently have a disagreement about the flight plan!

What we are seeing in Pakistan today is a government made up of two major parties that want much the same thing but do not seem to be in agreement on how to get there. The people of Pakistan, like the passengers on a plane, are waiting patiently for the pilot and the co-pilot to get on with it. And that is the problem with transitions. They depend heavily on people who have to decide the methodology of the transition.

We all know that once the plane gets up in the air, the bathrooms are going to flood because with all the people trying to wash their feet in the sinks, the toilets will clog up with paper towels and things will get quite hairy. Little children will cry, the older ones will run up and down the aisles disturbing everybody and yes, the plane might even hit some turbulence along the way. But, the secret of it all is that the plane must get on its way. For only then will there be an end to the journey and all its misery.

The problem with this plane is that while getting ready for its take-off, the pilot and the co-pilot are arguing about the flight plan with the public announcement (PA) system switched on and the passengers able to hear their arguments. Clearly, this is getting the passengers a little worried. And if this argument continues, some of the passengers might just get a little agitated. And we all know that if even a few passengers get agitated enough, the plane just might have to return to the terminal.

First and foremost, the PA system needs to be switched off; then the pilots should decide what plan to follow in the cockpit and let the head steward and his staff take care of the passengers. If it is time to go back to the terminal and let all the passengers off and file a new flight plan then so be it. And if not, let us get on with it.

Personally, I am sure that both the pilot and the co-pilot of this particular plane are already in sync about almost everything. So, Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, it is time for the two of you to let the people of Pakistan, the analogous passengers, know what your plans are and where it is you want to take us. Then you must get on with it.

If those in the cockpit of our national plane decide once and for all where and how we are going forward, it is only then that then we can be willing to stay on the plane. We will even accept all the discomforts of the flight as long as we are certain that eventually we will reach our destination. This is called a transition!

Enough of analogies. As an ordinary Pakistani, I want to see the newly elected government have the courage to follow its convictions. I believe in it. The question is, does it believe in the ordinary voter?

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times, 28/7/2008

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