A Pakistan punctuated with delays

Although patience has long been considered a virtue, lacking the ability to be punctual is a vice. In Pakistan, wasting time by waiting has become an acceptable norm

The clock continues to tick. You wait. No one arrives. The only proof of time passing by is the little hand moving along the dotted lines. You wait some more. Still no faces appear. Across the world, you are punctual. However, in Pakistan you are a fool.

As a society, our understanding of time is highly unique. We perpetually live in uncertain times. A wedding invitation will read 8pm but in fact mean 10pm. Flights will be delayed by several hours at a moment’s notice. The doctor’s appointment will be scheduled for 2pm but the doctor will arrive at 3pm. Once when I complained, the receptionist simply pointed to a notice that read: ‘Appointments may be delayed by 60 to 150 minutes. Thank you for your cooperation. ’Although patience has long been considered a virtue, lacking the ability to be punctual is a vice. In Pakistan, wasting time by waiting has become an acceptable norm.

But can a nation incapable of following a single clock ever attain sufficient stability to prosper?

A developed Pakistan is a far away dream. Our future is always obscure, for very little is done on time. Take Karachi’s K-IV water project. It was approved in 2011 and was scheduled to be operational within a span of three years, supplying260 million gallons of water per day from the Indus River to the coastal city. Today, almost seven years later, while the citizens of Karachi are struggling to meet their water needs, the monumental project is still under construction. But K-IV is merely one example of our tardiness. There are many such projects pending throughout the country. And the concerned personnel have little motivation to meet the set deadlines.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “You may delay, but time will not.”  The clock stops for no one is a universally acknowledged truth. But the people of Pakistan are in no rush. As a nation, we are abnormally comfortable with delays. Wasting time is seen as part of the process. Deadlines are often pushed to suit individual needs without seriously considering the consequences; from players sitting in the national assembly to pawns walking through the streets, each man works with his own clock tucked under one arm.

The clock stops for no one is a universally acknowledged truth. But the people of Pakistan are in no rush. As a nation, we are abnormally comfortable with delays. Wasting time is seen as part of the process

Now what you do each day, adds up to what you achieve in a week. What you do each week, determines where you stand at the end of a month. And so months turn to years, and years turn to decades. You work in the present knowing the future is lurking around the corner. This importance of time is inculcated into every child from a very young age. During school days, punishments are doled out and parents are called in if a child continues to arrive late. However, as adults the notion of punctuality is thrown out the window.  One can’t help but wonder why?

In a nation where disparity reigns supreme and survival is a struggle, one of the easiest ways of exercising power, irrespective of monetary wealth and status in society, is manipulating time. You can strip a man of everything except his time. The hours are his alone to have and to hold. A chief guest will arrive two hours late to an award function. Hundreds of people, who also have other places to be, will sit silently waiting. The tailor will deliver your clothes when he chooses to — not when you need them. You will simply have to wait. But with every man dancing to his own tune chaos is bound to ensue. And thus, it is no surprise the fate of our nation forever hangs in limbo.

One of the few things a person living in Pakistan can be certain about is an uncertain future. Previously many were convinced the government would not complete its term. Then came predictions that the Senate elections would not be held.  We always begin by presuming delays; nothing is seen as set in stone. Lately the question on many minds is: will elections be held on time? Amendments in the nomination forms days before the deadline for submission caused a panic. Then the Supreme Court suspended the Lahore High Court’s decision and added an affidavit. But the hurdles have just begun.

The Election Commission has received a total of 1,286 objections against the new delimitations. Thus many are still convinced the elections will be delayed. Every other day a politician, judge or public figure appears on national television and reassures the people: “come what may, we will hold elections on July 25th.” But when small inconsequential tasks are delayed, can you really expect major national decisions to be taken on time? Politicians emerge from the very population they seek to represent- indifferent to tardiness and functioning on an independently designed time. Khursheed Shah was once a metre reader and Altaf Hussain a trainee pharmacist.

To change the fate of our nation we must change our habits. Adherence to a set time should be reflexive. Delays must be made intolerable. Only then, can uncertainty regarding the future cease; timely elections will then be expected, instead of being deemed unlikely. Pakistan can only prosper as fast as we choose to move forward with our eyes on the same clock.

The writer has a master’s in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics. She tweets @mawish_m

Published in Daily Times, June 10th 2018.