HYDERABAD - Higher Education Commission Pakistan Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed has said that strong political leadership with the highest possible moral bearings, increased provincial autonomy and a cohesive national fabric were the ways forward for preservation and promotion of democracy in the country.

This he stated while delivering his presidential remarks at the inauguration ceremony of three days long international conference on “Democratic transition in Pakistan” hosted by Area Study Centre, Far East and Southeast Asia, University of Sindh, Jamshoro under the aegis of Higher Education Commission, Islamabad at Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Convention Centre .

Dr Ahmed said, “It is high time to bid adieu to regional, provincial, sectarian and communal differences, we need to build strong cohesive national identity to defeat the threats facing Pakistan in the face of South Asian and global geo-political perspective”.

He appreciated efforts of Dr. Burfat towards academic, research and infrastructural uplift of the varsity, observing that the campus was far more improved now as compared to what he saw  it in 2015.

He asserted that there prevailed several mis-perception as regards financial allocations made to public sector universities in various provinces by HEC; clarifying that HEC followed policy of strict need and merit in award of funding.

He informed that during last five years, the HEC disbursed Rs 140 billion to Sindh public sector universities adding that HEC always facilitated the transact needed encashment to higher education institutions in the country with any discrimination.

The Vice Chancellor University of Sindh Prof Dr Fateh Muhammad Burfat while speaking on the occasion eulogised his patronage of public sector universities in Pakistan and expressed gratitude for helping the varsity win recent funding of Rs. 1600 million.

“The challenges democracy confronts in Pakistan include lack of higher income, liberal values and tolerant culture, lack of good governance patterns, sustainability of electoral practice every five years, sovereignty of rule of law, peace prevalence, interfaith harmony, pluralism, provincial autonomy, judicious distribution of resources and opportunities, safeguarding culture promoting civil liberties and human rights,” Dr Burfat stressed.

He said people were always the real fountain heads of power; hence democracy in whatsoever form must derive its legitimacy from the people of the country.

The keynote Speaker of the inaugural session of the conference Dr Ravichandran Moorthy, Head, International Relations Cluster National University of Malaysia said that Southeast Asia was one of the most economically dynamic and vibrant regions of the world. He said it also was called the ‘economic tiger’ by the World Bank, adding that it was the home for 630 million people and that it had shown remarkable economic progress and political development over the last two decades.

“The political systems and development in this region are varied in many ways, largely subscribing to differing values, political history and the conception of ‘correct’ governance”, he said and added as far as democracy is concerned, the region is in transition towards greater democratic process. In fact, it has been in transition since independence from colonialism (with the exception of Thailand) in the 1950s and 60s”.

He said that the ten Southeast Asian states inherited different political systems – Brunei was an absolute monarchy; Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia had constitutional monarchs; Laos and Vietnam were socialist states; while Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines were democratic republics.“All with different levels of democratic development”, he elaborated.

He advocated leadership, statesmanship, peoples’ choice and will, constructive mass engagement in the political processes, South Asian states’ enhanced economic cooperation and higher investment in education sector as pathways to transit to democratic system of governance.

The Director General East Asia Pacific, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Muhammad Hassan said that liberal values, healthy education system, tolerant culture, sound economy and an informed, vibrant and engaged citizenry were vital for transition and consolidation of democracy in Pakistan as had been learnt from multiple experiences in the South Asian context.

He said, “South Asia presents a wide range of democracies in nature, type and form Thailand, Myanmer and Pakistan had hybrid variety of democracy with broken spells, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia cherished healthier forms of democracy; whereas Vietnam and Laos were still under authoritarian rule in the guise of unripe democracy”.

He termed honest, visionary and audacious political leadership, transparency, meritocracy and an educated population imperative for establishment and furtherance of democracy in South Asia.

The inaugural ceremony was followed by the first working session in which a number of scholars including Prof. Dr. Parvez Iqbal Cheema, Lieutenant Genral (retired) Amjad Shoaib and Prof. Dr. Razia Sultana presented their research papers.

The conference will continue for another 2 days during which several other national and international scholars will be sharing insights on the theme of the moot.