What Bothers Them: Fake Degrees Or Democracy?

By Malik Siraj Akbar

What could be the best option available for aviation authorities when they desperately feel the need for bringing down an airline in the middle of its journey because someone among the passengers managed to board the flight with a fake boarding pass? In such a situation, bringing down the entire aircraft is insanity. The best practice available on such an occasion would be to take action against all those officials who conspired while issuing a fake boarding pass, scrutinizing and verifying it during various phases through which the passenger had to go before fastening his seat-belt.

In Pakistan, the issue of fake graduation degrees of various members of the parliament has suddenly popped up. With the passage of every day, the issue is expanding like a catastrophic tornado. Given the seriousness of the matter and discovery of more new cases of members of the parliament obtaining fake degrees, the very future of democratic government is badly jeopardized.

The frenzy about fake graduation degrees has now hit Balochistan too. A Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Education has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan Balochistan office to provide the educational record of all sixty-five members of the Balochistan Assembly. As the information has been provided by the Election Commission, it is now going to be processed by the Higher Education Commission to ascertain the authenticity of various members’ graduation degrees. It was General Perez Musharraf who made it mandatory upon all contestants of general elections to have a minimum graduation degree as a precondition to participate in the elections. Many veteran and renowned politicians, who had won the elections from their respective constituencies in the past, were knocked out from the electoral race because they did not have a graduation degree as recognized by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

It was the precondition to have a graduation degree for which influential politicians moved from pillar to post to obtain a degree from anywhere at any price in order to contest the general elections. Many politicians spent hefty amounts of money to forge graduation degrees and contested elections. The majority of doubtful degrees come from the religious schools administered by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-Fazal) which is a key coalition partner of the Pakistan People’s Party in Balochistan. According to a report published in Express Tribune, at least twenty-five MPAs in Balochistan are believed to have fake degrees while Deputy Chairman of Senate and a former chief minister of Balochistan Jan Mohammad Jamali said yesterday in a press conference that the number of MPAs in Balochistan who possess fake degrees was more than one dozen and includes both male and female MPAs. These are very high statistics which, if proved correct, may create a great parliamentary crisis in the province.

Zafarullah Zehri, the provincial minister for home and tribal affairs, has suggested all of his fellow members of the Balochistan Assembly to voluntarily resign from their respective seats if they contested elections by using a fake degree. Demonstration of ‘moral courage’ and ‘resignation’ are two alien words in Balochistan’s politics. Therefore, it is futile to hope that someone would bravely confess having used wrong means to contest elections. Thus, legal action is the only way forward which could prove these speculated figures.

In Balochistan, a thumping majority of young Balochs hardly have any liking for the parliament. They do not care much about the composition of the Balochistan Assembly and the performance of its ministers. Hence, the issue of fake degrees and impending disqualification barely generates heated interest for them. On the national level, the PPP government has become extremely unpopular with the masses. We have entered the 1990s again where the PPP is engaged in worst forms of corruption and bad governance. No one wants it to stay in power any more nor does it have public sympathies any more. The popularity graph of the PPP government in Balochistan is equally abysmal as people desperate feel the need for a change in the government.

Conceding the extremely poor performance of the democratic government, we still believe the timing chosen for addressing the issue of fake degrees is not appropriate. The purpose of this fresh campaign, which should have been started before the elections, is not to cleanse the assemblies of fake-degree holders but to create a fresh political crisis in the country by derailing the process of democracy. It is no skeleton in cupboard that the judiciary in the country has shaped itself, in the aftermath of its restoration, as a political power center similar to the country’s army. The Chief Justice appears to be bent upon bringing the President to his knees with the covert support of the military. No such move should be taken right now which leads to derailment of the democratic process in the country. It is too late to punish elected MPAs and MNAs after two years of their election. They should be allowed to complete their tenure.

Punishment should now be awarded to the Election Commission of Pakistan, the degree issuing educational institutions and everybody who accepted bribe in return of facilitating the issuance of a fake degree or observing silence during the process of scrutiny. The judiciary should refrain from blackmailing the parliament and attempting to empower itself as a stronger entity than the elected parliament. The disqualification of some MPAs is not going to change the overall defective social and political structure of this country as the current moves being made to punish the fake-degree holders clearly has political rather than reformist motives.

This article originally appeared in The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English language newspaper

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