Choose democracy, not the HEC

It is time to save our democracy and not an entity that comes far below a democratic state.

Karim Khan April 21, 2011
Criticism of the government's decisions is becoming more of a habit than a reformative concern among our so called experts.

As far as media campaigns to save the Higher Education Commission (HEC) are concerned, some would even suggest that democracy is being slaughtered at the altar of activism.

Since the federal government’s announcement to devolve HEC, there has been a plethora of articles, blogs, letters, and comments, most of them supportive of the commission’s authority in matters relating to higher education. Few, if any, have bothered to objectively and critically weigh the HEC’s success against its failures as a central body in promoting higher education in the country.

Hardly anyone has taken the pain to propose discussing bigger 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 brought by it, if any?

And above all, how transparent has HEC been in its responsibilities? (There have been numerous scandals of corruption and irregularities in this body over the past few years.)

Roping in the military and the judiciary

But what shocked me above all is Dr Attaur Rahman’s article ‘Time to Save the Higher Education Commission’ published in The Express Tribune on 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, Dr Rahman rushes on to voice his hope that the country’s political, as well as military, leadership will intervene to save the body 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?

Thankfully, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow HEC to function till further notice has not followed any sou motu action – something that has become symbolic of what has been termed ‘judicial activism’ and considered anti-democratic in the wake of the hassle over the 18th amendment. Though prematurely regarded as “coming to HEC’s rescue,” the apex court has taken a decision that is primarily pro-democracy. Since the HEC is protected under the 2002 ordinance that gave birth to the commission, fresh legislation annulling or overwriting the earlier one is required to constitutionally devolve it. The federal government is currently in the process of formulating such legislation. If the court is moved to challenge the devolution of HEC under the new legislation (something that can be smelled beforehand), it will be a clear indication of disregard for the writ of the democratic government. Hopefully, we’ll be spared from witnessing such a moment.

An equally dark side to the case against HEC’s devolution is the connection between the establishment and the commission. In his blog ‘The (not so) long arm of the HEC,’ Syed Nadir El Edroos boldly unveiled the role of ex-military officials in HEC-recognized institutions of post-graduate learning and the commission’s meaningful silence over the excess of the said officials. The line “retired army officers granting themselves PhDs at NUML” said it all. Remembering that the military establishment has toppled democratic governments and imposed dictatorships repeatedly in the history of this still-young country, and that the HEC itself is the guarded child of a military dictator, the devolution of the commission signifies the peeling of dictatorial remnants through democratic cleansing.

So what’s in it for the nation?

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 for the country’s education and economy. But, it is pretty clear that a publicly elected democracy is entitled to make 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 just plainly dissolved, for the same. 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 170 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.
Karim M Khan

The writer is based in Gilgit-Baltistan. 
He can be reached at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


swa | 13 years ago | Reply now mr. karim khan i would like to ask you some IMPORTANT important questions.... right now we have one higher education authority in Pakistan but how many systems do we have? we have the simple 2 year BA/BSc that has no worth anywhere in the world but is still prevalent in pakistan,,,we have the standard four year bachelors degree,.... and at places we have 3 year bachelors as well... now by having separate provincial systems wot are we to expect? in the blink of an eye 10 new bachelors programs will spring up... lowering the worth of pakistani degrees abroad even more than before... what about all those facilities given to the universities of pakistan by the HEC? when one HEC payed huge chunks of money to the international research journals all of u could benefit from them in our universities with ease.. now all the provinces will separately pay those huge chunks? i dont remember pakistan having so much extra cash to burn......... and what about the transition phase?what about us, the students who will be stuck in this phase... the new higher education systems can not build up in a day or two... what about us who will be directly affected as our time in now????? just dissolving or devolving HEC will solve nothing but will only lower the worth of our degrees internationally. yes it has problems but these can be solved....just getting rid of it is NOT the solution. my last important queation will be that if the HEC is such a fail... how will the provincial governments handle systems of their own? we cant really expect capable people to just spring out of nowhere to run the new systems...if according to you we have a failed system in the form of HEC... CAN WE AFFORD FOUR FAILED SYSTEMS???????
Pseudo my turtle | 13 years ago | Reply @Rokhan: What you suffer from is ethnocentrism. You are a hypocrite and you don't care about Pakistan as a whole. You talk about Punjabis ruining everything and sucking Pakistans blood, yet you reflect exactly the same ideology. You talk about Urdu not being a language, you talk about Mohajirs not being native, you talk about Punjabis sucking the blood out of Pakistan. There were punjabi mohajirs, pathan muhajirs, sindhi gujrati hyderabadi bengali muhajirs and then you have the nerve to say that muhajirs speak urdu and they have imposed it on Pakistan. That was our Quaids decision sir, I hope you think of his as your Quaid-e-Azam because i have my doubts on your patriotism. I don't usually talk like this but reading your last comment has thoroughly disgusted me. The feudal/tribal mentality- yeh teri zameen yeh meri zameen, oozes out of each word you write. You say that MQM controls Karachi without being natives? Now i am seriously questioning your mental capability. Are you saying that the people who are associated with MQM do not have the right to win elections in Karachi because they are not natives? If i was born in karachi, my parents were born in Karachi but my grand parents came from Agra, does this make me a second hand citizen of Pakistan? These is exactly the mindset that MQM was created to counter. You talk about elite people in Pakistan right? Sir, it is evident from your comments that you yourself come from that same elitist mindset. (i hope you know the difference) Then you talk about MQMs modus operandi. Unfair means? Control? I think you should try visiting Al Asif Square or Lyari someday. (as Jalib put it, Lyari main khauf se patta nahin hilta). That is what control is. I am not saying MQM is pure. It is not, but calling it the only criminal is unfair. They are obviously involved in many such activities, but largely in retaliation because ANP and PPP want a piece of their turf and they are doing it by force. You don't talk about people coming from Shirin Jinnah colony (i hope you know what party workers dwell there) near boat basin and raping women at boat basin while making their husbands/brothers watch. you dont talk about all the bhatta that PPP and ANP collect. You dont talk about the land mafia that these parties support. Yet you are quick to point out MQM as a terrorist organization. I feel like shredding your comments piece by piece word by word but that would be a waste of your time and mine. Its good to see you have strong political opinion. I dont want to change yours and neither can I. Its just that a person should be rational and view both sides of an argument. You will note that i have not spoken about the matter at hand.
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