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The elusive BA

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.

Reader Comments

Comments (6)
  • zahid

    Thanks Ayesha for praising the the worker who has been now the model for all Pakistanis. This was the coincidental case with Essa Khan but I being from Gilgit assure that you find many hundreds of Essa If such cases with also with them. The People of Gilgit Baltistan who on job in other cities in Pakistan are sincere and honest with their profession.

    You might not have visited Gilgit…Hundreds of European and English tourists who visits Gilgit Baltisan every year they praise the honesty, sincerity and simplicity of our people.

    Thanks for encouraging statement for our Essa khan.

  • Meekal Ahmed


    This is a very good article.

    As an economist my only thought is pay your damn taxes. I don’t care what degree you have.

    But not paying your taxes is the very culture of lying and cheating that you speak of.

  • Patriot

    Nothin new in the article…whats the point in writing?

  • Meekal Ahmed

    Mr. Patriot,

    You obviously have nothing to say so it is YOU should should not be saying anything. You don’t have to insult the writer.

  • Ammar

    I disagree with “no need for education for legislators” argument: The primary job of legislator is to legislate and he should have good understanding of different public policies before he/she can intelligently participate in policy making discussions and debates focusing on economic policy, health policy, defence, foreign policy etc. If a person is not even properly educated to a certain requirement- how do you expected him or her to participate meaningfully in policy debates in the assembly or senate. It is not a quesion of paying taxes- that is a separate issue of revenue collection ( of course that is equally important). Some one who is paying his/her taxes but is not educated cant still, despite paying all taxes, contribute meaningfully to policy debate in the assembly. We can not make comparisons to countries where literacy levels are high and say that we do not need any qualifications as developed countries with high literacy levels do not have those requirements. People in those countries with high level of literacy can still understand the policy debates even if they do not have a degree. In a country like Pakistan, where literacy level is so low- there have been number of legislators in this assembly in 199Os who could not sign and would stick their thumb instead of signature. How do you expect such people to contribute intelligently to public discourse ( just like the MPA who thinks the word General starts with J instead of G- his statement is being repeated over the media all the time now).

    It was a good rule- this BA requirement. Had the present assembly not done away with it, in two assemblies tenure with this verfication process going on ( after all, all laws require implementation) we would have been able to weed out fake degree holders and then at least people would have thought twice before applying for a MNA ticket.

  • Owais

    “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”

    Countries with far more qualified parliaments are also countries with educated, well-developed societies. So your point is moot. I would rather elect people smarter and more academically qualified than our illiterate population – acquiring a degree requires a certain level of discipline that is needed for our country to progress.

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