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Change in Higher Education Commission (HEC), remains without chief

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Change in Higher Education Commission (HEC), remains without chief

Change in HEC

Oct 24: The resignation of Dr Ataur Rehman from the Higher Education Commission is like putting a bandage on a broken bone. Dr Rehman's removal does little to address the fiasco created by Gen Pervez Musharraf, who had himself bypassed all laws of the land to become chief executive of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Who knows how the General decided to establish the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in September 2002 through his Ordinance (No. LIII), but we all know that Dr Rehman became the blue-eyed boy of the general. This can be judged from the fact that often the commission seemed to enjoy authority which was greater than even that of the ministry of education.

Inherent in the very establishment of the HEC were all the problems of superstructures and super-performers: such institutions assume that the slow, organic process of institutional development in the country has no meaning whatsoever and that one man (or woman) has all the wisdom it needs to work wonders. A superstructure is also established to bypass and divert resources from existing governing bodies of the state; it creates outrageous benefits for some, it treats the employees of the existing institutions as second-class citizens, and it creates frustration and despair in the hearts and minds of those who cannot board the new boat. All of these ills were born with the HEC.

Nothing speaks more than facts, hence if one were to objectively see the wonders worked by the HEC chairman in six years, all one has to do is look at the state of higher education before and after the commission's inception. If one wants to actually see where the missing billions went, one only has to get the actual amount spent on foreign tours from the accounts of the HEC. But such objective analysis of the functioning of the commission is unlikely to happen because we live in a culture where covering up each other's tracks is a norm, but one must hope that there is some accountability in this case because we are talking about huge sums (an amount of Rs26 billion has been quoted in this newspaper, in fact).

The issue, however, is not merely one man's performance, or the lack of it. The real issue is the mindset that created the HEC and gave its chairman draconian powers to do what he wished. Behind these issues is the issue of criteria of judging. In his rejoinder to Dr A Q Khan's comments on his years at the HEC, Dr Rehman has listed his achievements and supported them with reports from USAID report, the British magazine Nature, the World Bank, the British Council, and other foreign organisations. That, in itself, is indicative of a colonial mindset: the stamp of approval is coming from the white man.

As someone who was partly instrumental in Dr Ataur Rehman's coming to Islamabad's power circuit in 1996, and who knows firsthand how the good doctor influenced the young section editor (of Pakistani origin) at Nature through his adviser, Anwar Nasim, I can say with the full force of truth that that article, as well as other stamps of approval, have little meaning. All one has to do is invite a foreigner to Pakistan and charm him or her. It takes little effort if one is already working for an agenda that foreigners like. In fact, the more praise one hears of a programme or a person from the mouth of those who want to see Pakistan transformed in their own image, the more doubtful one becomes of the programme and the person.

Thus, beyond the ambiguous reports of financial mismanagement, we must look at some glaring facts: (i) Dr Rehman worked for the same "vision" of Pakistan that Gen Musharraf: a Pakistan that supports the American agenda of a radical transformation of our society from its Islamic roots towards a modern, westernised society. (ii) Dr Rehman loved to promote himself. The day he arrived at Comstech he opened his briefcase and asked the secretary to fax pages of a document called "Achievements of Dr Attaur Rehman" to 56 Muslim states. On that day, he also instructed the driver to put a flag on his car. (The flag obsession is also mentioned by Dr A Q Khan in his article.) (iii) There is a tendency of overstating, glamorising so-called achievements: I have a news clip in my files from Dawn of April 8, 1998, which quotes the coordinator general of Comstech as saying at a meeting that efforts had been initiated to raise "$5 billion in the next three years for fostering research in science and technology." The fact that these funds did not materialize is not the point apparently because what he said was obviously good for publicity. (iv) There is truth in the argument that he acquired the position of coordinator-general of Comstech in a manner that was not entirely ethical given that he was part of the selection committee established by President Farooq Leghari on May 31, 1996. I know this because I had suggested his name to the president and because I was the convener of that committee. (v) Dr Rehman has held on to that position for over 12 years now and one only has to inquire what became of the intention to raise five billion dollars.

The fact is that Dr Rehman shows no understanding of the ground realities of Pakistanis society. This lack of understanding of the social implications of technology is part of a bigger problem of lack of any grounding in the social and human sciences as well as a near-total unfamiliarity with the Islamic intellectual tradition.

by Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
(To be concluded). The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: (The News)