How to fix the system

Wednesday / Dec 06 2017

Newspaper : The News

Pakistan needs to change its direction and set up a strong knowledge economy. Countries that are investing in science, technology and innovation are progressing rapidly and, thereby, increasing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

The gap has become so wide that the Muslim world now appears to be at least 200 years behind the West in terms of science and technology. This is illustrated by the fact that Harvard University has produced 151 Nobel Prize winners, Columbia University has fostered 101, Cambridge University has produced 94 and the University of Chicago has cultivated 89. Meanwhile, not a single Nobel Prize has been awarded to scientists in the Muslim world for research that has been exclusively carried out within a Muslim country.

Similarly, about 8,000 scientists have been elected as fellows of the prestigious Royal Society (in London) since 1660. But only four of them have originated from the Muslim world. It is interesting that two of these scientists have worked in Pakistan’s premier research institute, the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at Karachi University (late Prof Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and this writer).

However, we cannot make a transition towards a knowledge economy without a visionary, competent and honest leadership. Pakistan is going through the worst economic period in its history, with the national debt drowning the country and rapidly pulling it into a state of bankruptcy. Pakistan’s total external debt was $33,172 million in the third quarter of 2004. This was the debt accumulated after 57 years of our existence. What followed was a disaster that was largely the result of an NRO that brought corrupt regimes into power. Our rulers have looted and plundered at will, fully supported by foreign financing agencies, and the external debt has now reached $82,981 million in the second quarter of 2017 – an increase of 250 percent. If this money had been used for investment in productive ventures –such as boosting agricultural productivity, constructing large dams, establishing top educational institutions or improving healthcare – then a huge loan may have been understandable. But this was not done and there is little to show for what was borrowed.

The 18th Amendment has allowed a much greater share of the national budget to be transferred to the provinces. In Sindh, this has largely resulted in corruption, with little to show on the ground. The rural areas of Sindh now appear to be completely devastated.

The massive land-grabbing scams, particularly those that have surfaced in Sindh, have remained public knowledge. Only the Supreme Court can act under the current political system to take the elements involved in these scams to task. Under former COAS General Raheel Sharif, there was hope that the military will continue to exert its muscle to ensure that the National Action Plan would be implemented to rid the country of terrorism and corruption. However, matters appear to be getting worse.

The overall future scenario looks grim and immediate remedial steps need to be taken. The two essential ingredients that are required for the survival and prosperity of a nation are effective justice and a high-quality educational system that unleashes the creative potential of the youth. Unfortunately, both elements have deteriorated rapidly in Pakistan. The decline has been triggered by our rulers since a perceptive, educated population are averse to allowing corruption to prevail.

An example of the failure of the justice system to deliver is the fact that there are three higher education commissions in Pakistan. One of these is a federal body while the other two are provincial entities that have been established in Sindh and Punjab, respectively. Universities in Sindh and Punjab receive regular conflicting notices from the provincial and federal HECs and they are often confused about whose directives they should follow. The best way to destroy a country is to destroy its educational system so that the minds of its youth fail to blossom.

I had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2010 when the then government had tried to fragment the HEC and hand its pieces to the provinces. The Supreme Court had decided in 2011 that higher education was a federal subject and its status was protected under several clauses of the 18th Amendment. However, in blatant contempt of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Sindh and Punjab governments went ahead to form parallel HECs. This has duplicated the functions of the federal body and has, consequently, resulted in chaos in the higher education sector.

Along with Marvi Memon, I filed a joint petition in the Sindh High Court in February 2013 against the legality of forming a provincial HEC when a federal body still existed and there was a clear order from the Supreme Court that higher education could not be devolved to the provinces. Almost five years have passed and the Sindh High Court is still “considering” the matter.

It’s a pity that the future of our youth is being destroyed while our justice system remains dormant. It is time that the Supreme Court took suo motu action to disband the provincial HECs as these bodies are illegal and defy the court’s 2011 decision.

How do we climb out of this mess? Early elections, as proposed by Imran Khan, are not the answer as the electoral process is thoroughly corrupt. Elections are invariably unfair and never reflect the actual public sentiment. The process is under the stranglehold of the corrupt and powerful ‘electables’ who control the votes. The same corrupt people will, therefore, repeatedly assume power, irrespective of how many times you repeat a corrupt election process. This is precisely what the foreign enemies of Pakistan want.

Holding elections without thoroughly cleansing the country from those who have been involved in massive corruption will be a major disaster. An interim technocratic government is thus the need of the hour. The system must first be cleansed and changes must be made within our constitution to ensure that we are on the correct path.