Last week, Aslam Raisani, the Chief Minister of Balochistan told reporters after a provincial assembly session, “a degree is a degree whether it’s authentic or fake.”
Actually, no. No it’s not.
His statement came after the Supreme Court ordered election commissions to vet the education credentials of Pakistan’s federal and provincial politicians. According to Al Jazeera, “Up to 160 elected officials have been accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for holding office.” An Election Commission official told Reuters, “The Higher Education Commission [HEC] is verifying the degrees of all parliamentarians in line with the orders of the Supreme Court.” On Tuesday, Dawn reported that the commission is currently “pondering” over whether it’s a good idea to invoke the Pakistan Penal Code “to initiate criminal proceedings against lawmakers who are proven guilty of having fake degrees.”
Pakistani politicians tried as criminals? How novel.
But while you’re at it, HEC, maybe you should also try politicians who have defaulted on their loans, who are horribly corrupt, who profited under the National Reconciliation Ordinance, and who continue to to put their own interests above those of their constituents term after term. I’d guarantee that we’d barely have any lawmakers left.
In March, contributor Usman Zafar discussed the circumstances surrounding the resignations of politicians Jamshed Dasti (PPP) and Nazir Jutt (PML-Q), after the Supreme Court ruled that Dasti, a prominent party leader, had lied about his Islamic Studies Masters Degree. When questioned by the six-member bench, the former Chairman of the Standing Committee on Sports not only couldn’t recite the first verses of the Quran, but he even gave the incorrect answer to 4 multiplied by 2. Islamic Studies Masters Degree #FAIL.
Since the inquiry was announced, several lawmakers have already resigned from their posts, including PML-Q MPA Samina Khawar Hayat and PPP MNA Amir Yar Waran, who resigned last Thursday. As the “furore” (Dawn’s word not mine) grows, the fake degree scandal has garnered a call for mid-term elections from parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehreek-e-Insaf, who both boycotted the polls in February 2008. Dawn noted in its coverage, “For obvious reasons Prime Minister Gilani has said that fresh polls were not the solution to the country’s problems.”
The apparent source of the fake degree scandal stems from a law imposed by General Pervez Musharraf in 2002, which required political candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree “or its equivalent.” According to Al Jazeera, Musharraf said he imposed the law to “improve the calibre of MPs, but critics alleged the move was designed to sideline certain opponents.” The law was struck down in April 2008, though just after the February elections of that year.
In a country where the education system is lackluster at best, should we expect more from our leaders? My answer is an adamant yes. Education standards aren’t just set to create or enforce a political elite, it’s to ensure that our leaders can actually lead (though the correlation between education and leadership is definitely a worthy debate). And let’s face it: how many today can? How many have the integrity to be an example to Pakistan’s future generation? And how many have the foresight to think past their selfish aims for the greater good of the country? Not many. And while I hope this current scandal doesn’t lead to a distracting witch hunt, I do think it should raise discussion about these very questions. Because as a Pakistani, I am ashamed to call many of them my leaders.