By Dr. Atta Ur Rehman

THE PRESENT alarming state of affairs in our country is directly connected with the presence and actions of hundreds of “honourable” parliamentarians who forged their degrees to become eligible for elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies in 2008. It is the actions of these “honourable” parliamentarians, particularly the budgets that they approve for our national development, which have contributed in a major way to the current alarming situation in Pakistan. The degrees of 51 parliamentarians were found to be forged – a completely unprecedented situation in the history of nations.

There are, in addition, some 250 parliamentarians who have refused to submit their original documents to the Higher Education Commission for verification, in clear defiance of the orders of the Supreme Court. In any other country, such parliamentarians would have ended up in jail for forgery, the government would have collapsed and new mid-term elections would have been held – but not in Pakistan, the “Land of the Pure.” The former chief election commissioner decided not to obey the orders of the Supreme Court and look the other way.

The Supreme Court should have acted swiftly, as this was a most urgent national matter – the presence of some 300 persons sitting illegally in our national and provincial assemblies controlling the destiny of our country and making our laws. A contempt of court notice should have been served by the Supreme Court on the chief election commissioner in 2010. This has not happened, and those parliamentarians who had cheated to win the elections continue to rule over the country today, and make its laws and approve national budgets that suit their interests.

Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim is reputed to be an honest and upright person. He now has a legal obligation to urgently undo this wrong done by his institution and to implement the decision of the Supreme Court by declaring null and void the election of parliamentarians who refused to provide evidence regarding their degrees. We expect that he will act fearlessly and expeditiously to undo the harm done by his predecessor. He must not consider the consequences of his action. He must honour the decision of the Supreme Court and apply the law swiftly, so that those parliamentarians that were elected illegally in the 2008 elections are dismissed and debarred for life from national politics. The Supreme Court should also ensure that its decision is implemented forthwith.

A series of sinister events have unfolded in the last few years that appear to be linked to an overall systematic strategy to destroy the budding initiatives in science, technology and higher education. There is a method discernible in this madness. The government closed down two key institutions that have a bearing on our future: the National Commission of Biotechnology and the National Commission of Nanotechnology. It was also decided to lower the level of the highest national science body, the National Commission of Science and Technology, which was previously headed by the prime minister of Pakistan.

A meeting of this august body has not been held for more than seven years and, after the lowering of its status, it can now be headed by any nominee of the prime minister. (In India their highest-level science body is headed by the prime minister himself and its meetings are held regularly so that the highest priority is given to the national science programmes.)

The Higher Education Commission has also been under attack with universities budgets slashed by about 50 percent, the powers of the executive director as federal secretary taken away, and the powers of the HEC to appoint senior officials withdrawn in defiance of the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Plans were cancelled for the establishment of top engineering universities in Pakistan (Pakistan-German University and Pakistan-Austria University in Lahore, Pakistan-Sweden University in Sialkot, Pakistan-France University and Pakistan-Italy University in Karachi, Pakistan-China University in Islamabad and other universities in collaboration with Korea, Turkey and Japan in Peshawer, Quetta and Jamshoro).

This was done just three months before classes were to begin for four of these universities, much to the annoyance of the foreign partners. The projects to set up four law universities that were approved, one for each province, with provision for training of 40 PhD-level faculty members for each law university, were also abandoned. The present government has approved an education policy under which seven percent of our GDP was to be spent on education, with a fifth of this allocation going to higher education. But the reality is that we are allocating only 1.8 percent of our GDP on education, which places us among the most backward in the world. The deliberate effort underway to destroy our universities and science and technology institutions needs to be stopped and reversed, before it is too late. The nation must awaken and punish those responsible and restore the critically important projects that have been abandoned so ruthlessly.

Due to the poor governance and rampant corruption under the rule of some of these parliamentarians, Pakistan is today faced with an unsustainable and collapsing economy. This has been brought about by huge loans that have been taken by the present government that have more than doubled the national debt during the last five years. As a result, the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and other international lending agencies control our national development policies and shape the future of our country. They are often strongly influenced by world powers. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins (2004) was a runaway bestseller because the book described in some detail how developing countries are brought to their knees by corrupt practices through plots by a foreign government agency.

The leaders of these countries are persuaded with huge kickbacks to take mega-loans from foreign aid-giving agencies. Once submerged in debt, these countries are economically strangulated to a point where they have to timidly obey commands from the foreign masters. What has happened in Pakistan, particularly during the last five years, is uncomfortably close to the scenario in Perkins bestseller. Our economic collapse, triggered by the huge loans that we have taken, is imminent; it would have occurred long ago had we not been sustained by the inflow of remittances from expatriates.

It is now up to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Election Commission of Pakistan to act. The hundreds of “honourable” parliamentarians who cheated to get into parliament must be brought to justice. Contempt action should be initiated against the previous CEC for defying the orders of the Supreme Court and allowing certain members of parliament to continue in their present positions. The critically important projects in science and higher education must be revived and the powers of the Higher Education Commission restored.

The writer is former Federal Minister for Science and Technology, former Chairman of the Higher Education Commission.

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