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Of honorary degrees and awards

February 19, 2014

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ISLAMABAD: The recent distribution of honorary doctorate degrees and prestigious national awards among politicians and influential people has raised alarm in the intellectual and literary circles and civil society members about the criteria being followed to bestow these honors.

Leading educationists, intellectuals as well as the civil society members demanded that the trend should be discouraged to avoid disrespect to the honors and awards.

"This is not a good practice to award honorary degrees to the influential and powerful people. It should be stopped," said Dr Tariq Rahman, Professor Emeritus and former director at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

The award of honorary degrees by a couple of national universities to some politicians and even a member of the judiciary has triggered a debate in the academic and literacy circles, raising some serious and valid questions and objections about the whole matter.

Lahore's Government College University (GCU) awarded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif an honorary PhD degree on January 17. Days later, Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, conferred the honorary Degree of Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) on Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the chief minister of Sindh.

The University of Sindh awarded honorary degrees of 'doctorate of law' to the opposition leader Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah and the chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court, Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan.

In October 2011, the University of Karachi honored the then interior minister Rehman Malik by awarding him a doctorate degree.

"Universities around the globe award ome honorary degrees to the famous and powerful people but it should not become so common," Mr Rehman told Dawn.

"The deserving people in our country have been engaged in research and development to explore new vistas in their respective fields and yet finding it hard to get recognition of their work to get a doctorate degree. Similarly, the prestigious national awards here also go to the government's own people," he added.

Progressive literary figure Kishwar Naheed feels that awarding honorary degrees and awards to the people in government would reduce standards of intellectualism.

"This distribution of degrees and awards is devaluing the intellectuals.

This practice amounts to disrespecting these degrees and national awards," she said, referring to the previous government's decision to confer highest civil awards on their ministers and officials. A list of the recipients of the highest civil awards during the last 10 years obtained by Dawn shows that not only the government officials and rulers affiliates were awarded the prestigious medals but also they were honored for the wrong categories.

Particularly, the category of the 'public service' for the highest national awards like Hilal-i-Pakistan, Hilal-i- Quaid-i-Azam, Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-i- Imtiaz, Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, Sitara-i- Khidmat, Tamgha-i-Imtiaz and Tamgha-i- Khidmat contained the names including of the various military officers from the 10th corps and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), who hardly have anything to do with the 'public service'.

Many prestigious awards were also conferred upon doctors serving abroad.

Among them was Dr Arjumand Hashmi (Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2005), who has recently written a letter to the special court conducting Musharraf's trial in the high treason case suggesting that the former military commando needs urgent heart treatment in his clinic in the US.

During the previous government the PPP, some of the key awards beneficiaries in 'public service' category were then chairman Senate Farooq H. Naek, Senator Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Dr Asim Hussain (adviser on petroleum), Fehmida Mirza, Salman Faruqui, Farzana Raja, Sharmila Faruqui, Zamarud Khan, Mian Amir Mehmood, Senator Farhatullah Babar, Senator Taj Haider, Fozia Wahab, Governor Sindh Ishratul Ebad, Mian Iftikhar Hussain (Minister for Information KP), Senator Haji Ghulam Ali, Senator Syed Aqil Shah (ANP), Nargis Sethi, Syed Asif Hashmi (Chairman Evacuee Trust Property Board), Tariq Malik (former chairman Nadra), Murtaza Solangi (DG Radio Pakistan) and Nawazish Ali Khan Asim, public relations officer (PRO) to the former interior minister Rehman Malik.

The notables who were awarded for 'public service' during Musharraf's regime were retired Lt-Gen Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, Lt-Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, Maj-Gen Israr Ghumman, Dr Ashfaq Hassan Khan (Adviser Ministry of Finance), retired brigadiers Ijaz Shah, Saleem Ahmed Moeen (chairman Nadra), Arshad Khan (MD PTV), Syed ALi Raza (president National Bank of Pakistan), Hamesh Khan (head of Bank of Punjab), retired brigadier Hafeez Ahmed (MD Utility Stores), Dr Nasim Ashraf (chairman National Commission for Human Development), retired Lt-Gen Syed Shujat Hussain and Maj-Gen Mian Nadeem Ijaz Ahmed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nominated two leading columnists, Ataul Haq Qasmi and Irfan Siddiqui who wrote several columns in favour of PML-N during the election campaign, for Hilal-i-Imtiaz on August 14, 2013.

However, both of these columnists were honored for their respective fields of literature and journalism.

"This is a custom in our society that people who are closer to the government get the honours," said Ms Kishwar.

"Once a three-member committee set up to pick distinguished individuals for the national awards selected their own selves for the awards and got those too! This is a reality and history is witness to it," she said without giving the names of the committee members.

Mr Rehman viewed that society should try to stop this practice by protesting against non-deserving awardees.

"People should stand up against the distribution of such honors among the wrong people. They should ask the government the criteria of 'public service'.

I. A. Rehman, a leading human rights activist and a veteran journalist, suggested that the institutions must adopt principles to honor the deserving people.

"This unlimited distribution of the degrees and awards must be stopped. The institutions should form and adopt principals to honor people," he said.