FAKE DEGREES

by Pervez Hoodbhoy

Sunday, 25 July, 2010

Currently on a short visit to the University of Maryland, I am taking this opportunity to inform readers about the impression created overseas by the fake degree scandal in Pakistan. Major newspapers here, including the New York Times, have carried stories of the scores of counterfeit degrees possessed by Pakistani parliamentarians. The US media has underscored the unwillingness of the government and society to punish this scandalous behavior. Also reported is that the Sindh government has attempted to intimidate and threaten the chairman of the Higher Education Commission, who had been charged with verifying the degrees.

With outright cheaters and crooks sitting in parliament under government protection, it is no surprise that most people here – Pakistanis, Americans, and Indians – feel that Pakistan is headed nowhere. Expatriate Pakistanis, who live in a society that places a premium on personal honesty, are hanging their heads in shame. They have no explanation for why their country has fallen so low. If a state cannot enforce even minimal ethical rules, and if it can live in equanimity with corruption that is starkly visible, then it rightly deserves to be called a failed state. No foreigner is going to think of Pakistan as anything other than a Somalia or Nigeria, lawless and corrupt nations with which we seem to be competing with.

Fortunately, there do seem to be people of conscience in Pakistan who will not let the scandal die and the country sink yet further. It is also fortunate that the HEC, with which I have had strong differences in the past, is apparently holding up against political pressures. One wishes that these forces for good could prevail. I am sad, however, to see some well-respected columnists argue that the fake degree issue is being used to derail democracy and prepare the ground for army rule. This is a specious argument that, carried to its logical conclusion, will allow the grossest and ugliest of crimes to go unpunished.

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