New Delhi: The decades-long feud between Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy and Atta-ur-Rahman, former chairman of PM’s Task Force on Science and Technology, over Pakistan’s higher education system still remains unresolved. Rahman’s recent wish to “mend all bridges” with Hoodbhoy did not seem to suffice with just an expression of regret.
In an April email exchange made public recently, Rahman asked Hoodbhoy to let “bygones be bygones” and expressed “sincere regrets”. Rahman added that he was almost 80 and not keeping well. Hoodbhoy, while wishing Rahman no ill, said that he was still “squarely responsible for having single-handedly engineered the destruction of Pakistan’s higher education system.” The physicist also wanted Rahman to go on national television to confess before the people and beg for forgiveness.
The tussle between the two Pakistani scholars began two decades ago when the Pakistan Higher Education Commission (HEC) came into existence in 2002. Rahman was the first chairman of the institution, which was meant to fund, regulate and accredit the higher education institutions in the country. Hoodbhoy has always been a vocal critic of the policies of the HEC. He said it was a good idea to disband an institution “whose budget from 2002 to 2008 rose by an astounding seven times — a world record. But a good chunk was squandered on various delusional mega-projects that failed spectacularly”.
When contacted by ThePrint over mail, Hoodbhoy affirmed the email exchange and suggested watching his recent lecture at The Black Hole, which, he said, discussed Rahman’s destruction of Pakistan’s higher education system.
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No mincing words
In his email, Atta-ur-Rahman had written: “It has been almost two decades that we have had differences with one another. It is normal in the civilised world to have opposite points of view but still be civil. On occasions, our interactions have crossed these limits.”
Pervez Hoodbhoy minced no words in his reply. “Generations yet unborn will curse you,” he said. “What Bernie Madoff was to America’s Wall Street, you are to Pakistan’s higher education.”
Hoodbhoy then left no stone unturned in dissecting the “legacy” that Rahman had left behind. From making academic corruption “a norm and an accepted way of life” in universities to generating thousands of unemployed and unemployable graduates with PhDs, he called Rahman’s “destruction so complete and thorough that there is no hope of recovery in the foreseeable future”.
Hoodbhoy also underlined how Rahman wasted precious public money importing expensive scientific equipment, which he knew would never come to significant use, and shamed him for “peddling pseudo science to boost your popularity”.
He signed off by saying, “Meanwhile, I wish you good health and enough remaining years for you to atone for a lifetime of crime”.
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The decades-old tussle between Rahman and Hoodbhoy
The tussle between the two scientists is well known. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Atta-ur-Rahman have never seen eye to eye when it comes to Pakistan’s higher education system.
When Rahman stepped down from the role of chairman of the Higher Education Commission in 2010, Hoodbhoy said it “close[d] a unique and deeply troubled period for Pakistan’s education system”. Adding, “We cannot afford more failures on the scale that occurred under Dr. Atta’s tenure”.
In a 2013 Express Tribune article titled ‘Let’s stop promoting corruption in Pakistan’s universities’, Hoodbhoy argued how Atta-ur-Rahman’s “revolutionary” policies in science and technology had “bred a rat race for fake publications and supervision of junk theses”. Hoodbhoy went on to say that because of Rahman, “pay and promotion for professors became contingent on the numbers of research papers published and the numbers of PhD and MPhil students supervised. Only the ‘kill count’ mattered.”
Five days later, Rahman hit back in an article titled “Quality research in Pakistani universities”, wherein he cited “neutral foreign experts” who had documented the “remarkable progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector”.
Not just quality of education, Hoodbhoy has often accused Rahman, president of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC), of corruption and facing no accountability due to his proximity with the Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan governments.
Arguing how “political interference in scientific matters poisons scientific integrity” in an article in Dawn last year, he said “PM Khan has done a disservice to Pakistan” by exempting three scientific institutes that are under the supervision of Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, from a policy that required every university and research institute to submit progress reports and financial utilisation plans.
Earlier this year, Hoodbhoy called the “Dream University” or Pak University of Engineering & Emerging Technologies, which was supposed to be located at the Prime Minister House on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue, “another scam in the making” and among the many “unfulfilled pledges” of Rahman, the architect of the much-hyped project.
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A new debate
The latest email exchange between the two has ignited quite the debate online, with people discussing whose side they are on.
While a Twitter user wrote, “How a MIT graduate dismantles a Cambridge graduate in the wink of an eye,” another pointed out, “Atta ur Rehman is a crook. He must be grilled all right. Being on the verge of death doesn’t absolve [you] of your crimes. But making your email public like this is cheap halkirraip on Pervez Hoodbhoy’s part”.
Another user asked, “Harsh may be, but Hoodbhoy is . So Atta is old/sick, does that mean he should be forgiven for his filth? He has damaged the education system so bad, that it will take forever to fix it”.