It is rare these days to get good news from Pakistan. So when I heard of Essa Khan, a worker at the Serena Hotel in Gilgit returning $50,000 in cash to a Japanese tourist who had forgotten the money in his hotel room, I could not help but think that there is still hope for Pakistan. Honesty and integrity are values that some among us still espouse. Essa’s monthly income is Rs21,000 but according to the BBC report, he “never even considered keeping the money”. What if Essa Khan ran for elections? Would I vote for him if I had the chance? You bet. Would it matter that he may not have a BA? Hardly.
It may be desirable for our legislators to be well-educated but to make a BA degree a requirement to contest elections serves no practical purpose. It is not that the Musharraf government initiated the BA requirement for altruistic reasons. In fact, by granting degrees from the madrassas equivalence to a BA, Musharraf ensured that several MMA candidates would have the advantage over less pliable established politicians, particularly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, who would in turn assist Musharraf in passing the controversial 17th amendment, thereby guaranteeing his prolonged rule. It is a folly on the part of our educated classes to think that the requirement was meant to uplift the level of the parliamentarians. For, in countries with far more qualified parliaments no such requirement exists.
To lie to the nation, however, especially when holding public office, should raise immediate red flags. Therefore, the fact that Jamshed Dasti and a number of others did not have a BA is far less problematic than the fact that they faked having one. The trouble is however that lying and cheating has become so endemic to our culture that even getting caught red-handed is rarely a source of embarrassment. The fact that faking a degree would result in no negative consequences for Mr Dasti, but in fact lead the head of his party to grant him another ticket for a by-election and support from the prime minister in announcing development projects for his constituency ahead of his election in order to ensure his victory, speaks volumes about our political mindset. The anti-media resolution adopted by the Punjab Assembly is symptomatic of the same “how dare anyone challenge the rulers” attitude?
Curbing the culture of patronage such that the job of a legislator is not development work, dealing with thana-katcheri issues or packing public sector organisations with unemployed constituents is far more important than forcing a BA requirement. Nor can forcing a BA requirement influence how education is valued in a society. Reading a report by an Afghan, commenting on the negative changes in his country, I could not help but relate when he noted that previously education was valued as a means to get ahead in life, but today a large number of those who seem to have succeeded have done so by corrupt means. The story in Pakistan is not much different. Unless our values are recalibrated, lying and cheating is tangibly censured, honesty, integrity and hard work handsomely rewarded, simply forcing degree requirements for politicians will not bring about any positive change.
Thinking back to 2002, when the elusive BA requirement first came into play, I happened to witness a conversation between a prominent PPP Senator and a gentleman who knew him well. “Aap ke pass BA hai?” the latter asked the former. “Nahin. Khareed raha hoon,” responded the Senator. He was obviously kidding because I know he had a LLB degree, but that he would joke flippantly about such matters attests to the fact that a society which does not take issue with lying and cheating will not be able to inculcate the value of an education in its future generations in spite of degree requirements for its legislators.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2010.