In earlier articles I have stressed the critically important role of education in the process of democracy. In Pakistan we have seen a sinister plot at work in which the political parties, that have a strangle hold of feudal land lords, have ensured that the majority of Pakistanis remain illiterate and therefore, easily exploitable. Democracy under these conditions is a complete farce. In Soorah Inaam, Aayat 116 in the Quran, it is stated that we should not just follow the majority opinion or otherwise we will be led astray. There is no concept of democracy in the conventional sense in Islam. The Islamic concept of democracy is much more sophisticated, relying on consultation (“shoorah”) with those with “Fehm” (understanding).
It is interesting that initially when USA was founded, there was also no concept of one man one vote. Only white men with land or property or sufficient wealth which was taxable were allowed to vote. In Pakistan too a graduate degree was made a prerequisite for a vote during the time that President Musharraf was in power. Unfortunately many crooks simply forged their degrees and bribed the officials of the Election Commission so that it looked the other way. Cases of some 200 Parliamentarians were ultimately discovered with suspect or forged degrees. Some of them became Federal Ministers, and now many of them are being prosecuted and facing jail sentences.
The introduction of a degree as a requirement was an excellent move, since the prime role of the Parliament is to make laws. How can members do that without proper education? In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Master’s degree is an essential requirement to become a Member of Parliament, and we should have the same requirement in Pakistan. Most Cabinet members in Iran have PhD degrees. In Pakistan the degree requirement could have helped to improve governance worked, had the crooked Parliamentarians not smuggled themselves into the Parliament on the basis of forged documents. In order to provide opportunities to all to contest elections, it may be wiser to introduce criteria under which at least 70% of the provincial and national Assemblies have Maters or PhD degrees with first class academic careers throughout, and the remaining 30% are persons from various walks of life with unblemished records of service to society. All of them must be carefully screened by a judicial panel of reputed retired judges before being allowed to contest in the national elections.
Pakistan spends only about 1.8% of its GDP on education, which ranks us among the bottom 7 countries of the world. The previous government approved a national education policy in which it committed to contribute 7% of GDP for education. However it refused to implement its own policy as there were more pressing personal needs of loot and plunder, and the policy proved to be a huge national deception. According to Transparency International some Rs.8500 billion (about 9 billion US dollars) were plundered by PPP government officials in the first 4 years of its existence, bringing the country to its knees and doubling the national debt. These “honourable men” must be caught and given exemplary punishments so that others who follow them will never dare again to indulge in such heinous crimes.
With the change of government, hopes have been raised that PML-N may give a higher priority to education. This remains to be demonstrated. An education emergency needs to be declared immediately and at least 5% of GDP needs to be allocated to education with a quarter of this going to higher education. All the different Boards in various provinces need to be dissolved and a single national system of education with a uniform curriculum and a single national examination needs to be introduced.
Our neighbor India has been pursuing a very dynamic policy to uplift the quality of higher education and India has set aside Rs. 120, 000 crores (Indian rupees) in the current five year plan. Its 7 Indian Institutes of Technology have been expanded to 16 IITs, and 200 new universities as well as 40 centres of Excellence are being set up. Salaries of faculty have been tripled in the last few years, and it is today producing the largest number of qualified engineers in the world, well ahead of China or USA. The tremendous progress achieved by Pakistan during 2003-2008 after establishment of HEC provided the catalyst for India to upgrade and expand its higher education sector (see Hindustan Times Article entitled ”Pak Threat to Indian Science” by Neha Mehta, dated 22nd July 2006) (http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/NM13/Pak-threat-to-Indian-science/Article1-124925.aspx)
Unfortunately the progress in Pakistan in higher education was short lived as the PPP government led by a band of 200 politicians with fake degrees set about destroying HEC in a very deliberate fashion. Its budget was drastically slashed and the scholarships to students abroad were stopped, leading to my resignation as Chairman HEC in October 2008 in protest. The attacks however continued. Mr. Raza Rabbani tried his best to have HEC fragmented and the pieces distributed to the provinces, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted my petition (co-petitioners, Ms.Marvi Memon, Mr. Azam Swati and Dr. Ghulam A. Miana) and declared the devolution notice issued to HEC by the government illegal and unconstitutional. A second attempt was made more recently to take control of HEC by appointing Secretary Ministry of Education and Training as the Executive head of HEC. Again a petition filed by me and Ms. Marvi Memon was accepted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the PPP government was forced to withdraw its illegal notification.
Pakistan is today at a precipice, at the cross-roads of destiny. It is the enemy within that is the greatest threat to this nation. The argument that democracy must be given a chance to work is just an excuse by the crooked leaders that they should be allowed to steal and take away national wealth to foreign lands without any external interference. Democracy is only useful if it serves the interests of Pakistan, specially its tens of millions that are dying of hunger and poverty. If our system of democracy fails to deliver then we should abandon this road and ensure that a new system of “controlled democracy” is introduced in which only those that are honest, competent and visionary can come into power. This can only be done after genuine electoral reforms under proper supervision, and after careful screening of all candidates. However it is still not too late. Many hopes are now with PML-N, that they will rectify the huge damage done to this country during the last five years, and ensure that the corrupt will be taken to task. I hope that PML-N will set clear targets and launch a vigorous plan to transition to a “knowledge economy”.
The richest treasure that Pakistan has is its youth. We must slash our national budget in all other sectors and divert it to education as a part of a national emergency. It is only by investing in our children can we assure our future.
The author is the former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, Former Chairman Higher Education Commission, and presently President Pakistan Academy of Sciences.