The HEC and the Ahsan Iqbal factor

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 23.07.14

Ahsan Iqbal, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms (PDR), sent an e-
mail to this scribe and wrote: “I would like to correct the record that the appointment of [the]
Chairman [of the Higher Education Commission (HEC)] was not made by (
sic) on my
proposal. A selection committee was constituted by the PM with two other members namely
Dr Ishrat Hussain and Dr Shami. The decision was made by the committee unanimously.”

Iqbal’s version can be interpreted in this way: as the chairman of the search committee
(constituted by the prime minister on January 21, 2014) assigned with the task of finding a
suitable chairperson for the HEC, he was not alone in proposing the name of any candidate
for the post. Instead, the two other members of the committee were also of the same
opinion and that was how a unanimous decision was taken by all the three members of the
committee. In this way, Iqbal is saying that the credit or approbation of any decision made
by the search committee is shared by the three components (one chairman and two
members) of the committee and not solely by him. As an aside, it is still a mystery that
before the constitution of the search committee on January 21, how the Secretary, Ministry
of Education, Training and Standards in Higher Education declared the following point in
the advertisement published on January 12, 2014, in several dailies: “The Search
Committee for the Chairperson of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) appointed by
the Prime Minister...invites applications from persons of...”

When Iqbal says that he should not be singled out he is right. However, he overlooks the
point that he was the committee’s chairman, the seat in which there was concentrated more
than one role and responsibility. One of them was to be the third member of the committee
— the role he is focusing on — and another (among multiple others) was to be responsible
for the final decision of the committee. To elaborate this point further, if he were not given a
role and responsibility more than those given to a member, why was he not made a member
of the committee by the PM? In fact, Iqbal’s role and responsibility were more than those
given to the two other members of the committee.

It is a common practice in Pakistan that when a decision goes right, the chairman earns all
the credit for the committee’s fairness, prudence and insight. However, when the decision
goes wrong, the chairman dispenses the discredit amongst others. One positive in Iqbal’s
reply is that he is not laying the responsibility (or blame) for any wrong onto the shoulders
of Dr Hussain and Dr Shami. Instead, he is sharing that burden too. He says that if the
decision is wrong, all the three are responsible. The second positive in Iqbal’s reply is that
he has not defended the decision taken unanimously by the selection committee chaired by
him. The point is simple: if Iqbal were clear on the legitimacy of the decision, he would have
defended the decision fervently.

That is why a question should be asked to all three of them: what is the story of the missing
marks sheet? When the interviews of the 18 candidates (out of 22 shortlisted) were
conducted, a marks sheet was made elucidating the standing of each candidate. The marks
sheet was meant to build a merit list in the wake of the two-day interview process, which
took place on February 10 and 11, 2014, in the PDR division, Islamabad Secretariat. The
question is: why was that marks sheet (listing merit, if any) not sent to the PM’s office as a
supporting document with the proposal suggesting the names of three final candidates?
Was dispatching the marks sheet also the responsibility of the two other members of the
search committee? When not sending the marks sheet, what did Iqbal want to hide from the
PM’s office? Why was it necessary to render the marks sheet un-corresponded? What was
the secrecy in the selection of the chairperson HEC?

The story does not end here. The PM refused to approve any name out of three finalists
without first seeing the marks sheet and consequent merit positions. This point was
conveyed to Iqbal through a letter sent from the PM’s office on February 28. To Iqbal’s
further embarrassment, the letter also actuated the formation of a new search committee
with a mandate to undertake the whole process of conducting interviews of the 18
candidates, making a marks sheet and the consequent merits afresh. Moreover, both Dr
Hussain and Dr Shami were substituted not only with new members but also the number on
the committee was increased to five.

To offer some face-saving to Iqbal, the PM’s office retained him as the chairman of the
second search committee. Iqbal refused to head it as he came to know that the members of
this committee were unlike the members of the previous committee. The PM’s office
appointed Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Federal Minister for Water and Power and Defence,
the new chairman of the committee on March 7, 2014. This committee scheduled interviews
for March 18 and 19, 2014, and conveyed the same to the candidates but on March 17
cancelled the interviews indefinitely under the pretext of the preoccupation of its members.
The actual story behind this somersault is yet to be known. After that, Iqbal managed to
meet the PM personally, pressed on him to review his earlier decision and got the
incumbent HEC chairperson appointed on April 16, 2014. The vested interests of Iqbal in
this appointment are yet to be known

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