– Let us Unite to Uphold 18th Amendment including Devolution of HEC
By Khalid Hashmani
As more and more information comes out in the waning days of Higher Education Commission (HEC), most Sindhis are shocked to know that out of ten thousands (10,000) foreign and domestic scholarships that have been distributed by HEC so far, Sindh received only 892 (http://ejang.jang.com.pk/4-7-2011/Karachi/pic.asp?picname=99.gif). This amounts to about one third of the number that Sindh would have received even if the NFC award rules were applied. There is no province/ state or ethnic group anywhere in the world that has suffered as much as Sindhis have when it comes to scholarship opportunities in Pakistan. Instead of defending an institution that has denied Sindhis their due share in educational opportunities for so many years, we should be demanding trial of those officials who were responsible for denying Sindh its due share in scholarships. It is doubtful that an agency of such dreadful performance should even be given a role of standard setting and quality assurance. The Government of Pakistan should seriously consider creating a new agency with proper representation from each province/ state to oversee the jurisdictions that 18th Amendment allows at the federal level.
It is not surprising that MQM and its chief are opposing HEC’s devolution (
http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/07/hec-devolution-discussed.html). It is kind of expected that the two Muslim leagues and their leaders as they want to maintain the status quo. The devolution of HEC would put a stop to a discriminatory system that allows one province to enjoy almost twice as many scholarships as they would get after the devolution of HEC. However, it is baffling to see some Sindhis and some other seemingly fair-minded persons defending an institution with a record of discrimination that is being devolved in accordance with Pakistan’s constitution.
What impressive is the stand of people and the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, who in spite of the fact that they have received more than their fair share of scholarships under the auspicious control of centralized HEC, are strongly supporting the devolution of HEC. Mr. Idrees Kamal of Pakhtunkhwa Civil society Network in an e-mail on the devolution of HEC says “Let us join to defend and uphold the 18th Amendment with all its implication including devolution of HEC”. He goes on to say that MQM, PML (N), and the gangs of some VCs, HEC officials, and some religious political parties should abide by the constitution. Indeed, this observation only affirms what Sindhis have saying for years that their economic and cultural rights have been consistently violated by the same groups in Pakistan.
The vicious propaganda and half lies being spread by some media outlets are even implicating that the foreign aid by international organizations such as USAid and World Bank will stop further educational aid or have already stopped since the announcement by the Government of Pakistan to handover the responsibility for higher education to province in accordance with the recently passed 18th amendment. Such statements stand exposed as lies as the USAid Agency issued a written clarification that not only these statements are false but they will continue to support Pakistan and its provinces in higher education. A Sindhi writer very eloquently described this hysteria by the supporters of HEC and compared it to the devolution of one unit. He warned that every proponent of the devolution of HEC must be on watch as schemes may be conspired to create a scenario much like devolution of WAPDA, where the “generation of power” and “contro;l of large canals” continues to be controlled by federal agencies and less important aspects such as electricity distribution and irrigation have been give to provinces. We can not sacrifice collective and permanent de-centralization gains for temporary gains of individuals that we may like. The federal government and federal agencies such as HEC have a track record of collecting international funds in the name of Sindh and other provinces and forgetting Sindh and Balochistan when the time comes to distribute those funds fairly and equitably. The lessons learnt from the retainion of centralized WAPDA on the pretext that only a large federal agency can negotiate loans and aid for power generation must not be forgotten. The same excuse is also being used to usurp the control of coal deposits in Sindh. It is said that the present HEC is best suited to collect funding from international supporters and provide them to provinces. This is another meaningless promise to continue to exploit Sindh and Balochistan. How can can any Sindhi believe such a promise after knowing that Sindh received only 892 scholarships from 10,000? The overseas Sindhis and Baloch have started their advocacy and lobbying activities among international agencies to make these international agencies aware about the discriminatory and exploitive nature of agencies such as HEC.
Mr. Idrees Kamal of Pakhtunkhwa Civil society Network is right when he says that the HEC devolution is an issue between centralists and devolutionists and between uniformity and diversity. He calls 18th Amendment, a victory of devolutionists and says that the opposition to HEC devolution is an attempt to defeat the spirit of 18th Amendment. As Sindhis have been saying for many years, the argument of “uniformity” has been used for too long to impose a highly centralized system on people. The highly centralized systems in Soviet Union and Yugoslavia miserably failed and dismantled those countries. Canada and many countries in Europe in other parts of the world recognized the fact that decentralization and equal respect for diverse cultures. THe Pakistan must learn lessons from those failures.
The Pakistan Government must not waver from implementing 18th Amendment. It must not compromise on the provisions and principles of 18th Amendment. It will do an enormous damage to Pakistan if there is is any wavering or if conspirators succeed in creating conditions that prevent the implementation of all provisions of 18th Amendment. The time has come to not only decentralize Pakistan but open our minds and hearts that recognize the diversity of the country and that will strengthen Pakistan.
About Author: Mr. Khalid Hashmani is a Washington DC-based veteran human rights activist. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and a Coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhis.