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article imageOp-Ed: Time to save Pakistan's democracy, not the HEC

By Ernest Dempsey     Apr 7, 2011 in Politics
Islamabad - Criticism of government's decisions is becoming more of a habit than reformative concern among our so-called experts. As Pakistani media campaigns to save the HEC from devolution, some would even suggest democracy be slaughtered at the altar of activism.
Since the federal government’s announcement of devolving the Higher Education Commission (HEC), there has been a plethora of articles, blogs, letters, and tons of comments—most of them supportive of the commission’s authority in matter relating higher education. Few, if any’ have bothered to objectively and critically weigh the HEC’s success against its failure as a central body in promoting higher education in the country. Hardly anyone has taken the pains to propose discussing big questions like: What are the objectively verifiable indicators of progress in education? Do higher rankings of universities and greater number of research papers ensure public good coming from the highly educated? How much have the HEC’s ventures cost the country’s troubled economy as against the economic boost, if any, resulting from the commission’s projects? And above all, how transparent the HEC been in its responsibilities? (There have been numerous scandals of corruption and irregularities in this body over the past few years.)
But what shocked me above all is Mr. Attaur Rahman’s article Time to Save the Higher Education Commission published in The Express Tribune, April 5, 2011. After bragging about the HEC’s achievements, which are obviously debatable, and quoting personal opinions of a few in support of the HEC, Mr. Rahman rushes on to voice his hope that the country’s political as well as military leadership will intervene to save the HEC from devolution. He also immediately drops a line to the attention of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to take a suo motu notice of the commission’s devolution case. In two lines, the ex-chairman of the HEC suggests another conflict between the government and the two most powerful institutions of the country. Are we really going through these times?
The Higher Education Commission at its time of creation was the result of an act of the ruling government, a lawful act meant to take the country’s education a level higher. It is entirely debatable whether the commission has been a success story or a disaster to the country’s education and economy. But it is pretty clear that a publicly elected democracy is entitled to making decisions in the interest of the nation. If a government body can be formed for a good purpose, the same entity can also be devolved, or plainly dissolved, for the same purpose. And inviting a political conflict over a non-political issue speaks more about the anxiety of the stakeholders rather than the need of the hour. At this time in our existence as a nation, the prime necessity is protecting the mandate of 17 hundred million people of this country. To Mr. Rahman’s kind attention, therefore, I suggest that it’s time to save our democracy not an entity that comes far below a democratic state.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about HEC devolution, democracy in Pakistan, Pakistan higher education, Attaur Rahman
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