January 1, 1970 |

It is a moment of shame for Pakistan; the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has informed parliament that the University of Monticello, US, from where Law Minister Babar Awan claims to have secured his PhD, is a non-recognised and non-chartered university. The HEC has declared the degrees of at least 30 parliamentarians, including two federal ministers, as fake.

So far almost all politicians have managed to deflect attacks on fake degree holders by criticising the law introduced by General Pervez Musharraf before the 2002 elections. Their argument being that the unjust law forced many to opt for fake degrees. Even the president and the Sharif brothers stated the “supremacy of elected representatives” as a response to criticism of fake degrees, as if it were an attack on the integrity of the elected representatives. The Punjab Assembly resolution, passed on July 9, also reflected that sentiment within the ruling elite. Initially the entire house ganged up to denounce the media on clumsy pretexts; some deputies had issues with one TV channel but chose to condemn the entire media.

Opposition leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan stood out as the sole voice who spoke of the real issue being “fraud, and not the graduation condition”. It is indeed an issue of fraud and violation of the oath that commits lawmakers into adherence to the constitution. That lawmakers themselves indulge in fraud puts Pakistanis in a very embarrassing situation. And it is not just about the degrees of the parliamentarians; the HEC now must also check what sort of degrees universities such as those mentioned in these reports have been issuing.

We should not allow the ruling elite to hide under the cover of the “bad” Musharraf law. We must question this fraud and cheating. What is the moral or legal justification for purchasing a degree? Being in the assembly is no justification. And certainly General Musharraf never asked potential candidates to buy degrees. These people, under oath to making and respecting law, simply compromised morality and law by purchasing degrees. Our political leadership needs to be asked whether they think that someone who sits in parliament is in fact above the law. And they must be asked that are there any legal consequences for those who commit fraud, and if so what are these consequences?

Pakistanis should not allow the debate to deviate from this fundamental and crucial question. Nor should a crime be condoned or defended, regardless of whether it is committed by the media, politicians, generals or judges. While we expect caution and responsibility from all segments of the society – including the media – we must not tolerate subversion of the constitution and the law of the land. Most of the mess in this country has flowed from lack of respect for the law. Let us unite in preventing further mauling of the law by a few privileged ones.

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