EDITORIAL: HEC confusion - Thursday, April 14, 2011

The entire rigmarole over the devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has reached new heights of misunderstanding and suspicion. Since mention of the HEC’s devolution to the provinces started, the matter has remained cloudy in the heads of most casual observers. Therefore, it merits a little clarity to distinguish the black from the white.

The 18th Amendment was initiated, developed and passed in parliament after broad consensus of all political parties across the board. A very important aspect of this amendment was its commitment to decreasing the excessive over-centralisation of government procedures, policies, ministries and affairs. Among other ministries that were to be devolved from the centre to the provinces — to ensure them greater autonomy — was the ministry of education, a fact that was outlined when the 18th Amendment was passed. The process of devolution of ministries started some months back and quite a few ministries have already made their way to provincial portfolios. However, despite this consensus and despite complete constitutional obligation to fulfil these tasks, protests have erupted on the streets, educational institutes and among some academics to reverse the devolution of the HEC. They have cited everything from fear of losing precious scholarships, cutting off of foreign educational aid, an end to ‘mega’ educational projects and the like.

These loud and angry voices are now making their presence felt in the National Assembly. Due to the, reportedly, ‘manufactured’ concerns of the HEC, the political parties voiced their concern over the issue on Tuesday with the PML-N wishing to distance itself from a matter it termed a “federal subject”. The PPP was anxious to get on with its commitment of devolution and the ANP stood fast on having the devolution take place. No matter how big the white elephant in the room — the HEC — one sentiment was constant: too many rumours and conspiracies had blown the affair way out of proportion. It is a known fact that in a heavily over-centralised state such as ours, the more autonomy granted to the provinces, the more independent and efficient they will become. The HEC is not being trashed in the centre per se; it is being replaced by the Commission for Standard Higher Education, which will do exactly what its name suggests: quality control and maintaining the standard of educational requirements such as the curriculum, etc. Other educational matters will be deliberated upon and resolved by the provinces.

It is now the duty of each province to make sure that this devolution occurs in the smoothest manner possible. What needs to be scrutinised are not the haphazard allegations that are being pushed forth by vested interests on something that is a constitutional obligation, but how well the provinces stand up to the task of evolving the educational ministries under their watch. Those tasked with this provincial ministry should be men and women of enlightenment and progressive thought. They should ensure the development of education in their respective provinces to the best of their abilities — that is where the public debate ought to begin. This matter is a constitutional one reached by mass consensus. Those who are disrupting the process are doing so at the real cost of education — by holding it hostage to their allegations without giving the devolution process a fair chance. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Stand up for Balochistan

The PPP government’s initiatives and promises to alleviate the pain of the Baloch people owing to the treatment meted out to them over decades since the creation of Pakistan and more recently by a military operation launched by General Musharraf, have done little to alter ground realities in Balochistan. Instead of improving, the situation has fast deteriorated recently. However, the Supreme Court’s (SC) persistence in hearing of missing persons’ case and now the petition of Balochistan High Court Bar Association (BHCBA) president on targeted killings and worsening law and order situation in Balochistan has kept this issue on the national agenda.

In the latest hearing of the BHCBA president’s petition, the SC has dismissed the request of the advocate general of Balochistan for an in-camera briefing on the reasons and elements behind this situation with the contempt that it deserved. It is an open secret that the provincial government has very little role in policy making or maintaining the law and order situation in Balochistan. The real arbiters are the intelligence agencies, military and Frontier Corp (FC). There is so much fear of these institutions that nobody dares question them openly, hence the advocate general’s request. Its dismissal suggests that the SC has now become impatient with the lack of action on the part of the federal of provincial authorities to provide security to the people of Balochistan. However, the court’s remark that if the government is unable to perform its constitutional duties, the court would hold it responsible and might pass orders to make it go, do not take into account the fact that the government’s hands are tied. It is the duty of the government’s lawyers to explain the position without attempting to cover up through elliptical arguments such as the one presented by the additional advocate general that there is no coordination between institutions responsible for maintaining law and order. Dismissal of the government would not change the ground realities. The real issue is the impunity with which the military, FC and intelligence agencies are operating outside the law. Extra-judicial killings, internment and torture have become an everyday reality of Balochistan, as the discovery of dumped bodies of missing Baloch activists show. This is an extreme case of human rights violation that will worsen the situation even further. The security agencies would not change their ways, but if the public of the rest of the country raise a voice for their Baloch brothers and sisters, it will build political pressure that might stay their bloody hand. *

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\04\14\story_14-4-2011_pg3_1

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