ISLAMABAD  - After a long wait of over seven months and much wrangling over appointment procedure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday appointed Dr Mukhtar Ahmed as the Higher Education Commission chief.

The PM, controlling authority of HEC, approved the appointment after meeting Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal who had proposed three names for the slot. But the PM had initially rejected all three names and constituted a new committee to hold another round of interviews.

“On behalf of the search committee that had two other dignified members too I apprised the PM about the whole process and criterion of the selection. As we had chosen a best possible candidate according to our conscience who knows the system as he was already working as Executive Director of the Commission. Other candidates had not that outstanding records and choosing a vice chancellor could lead to grouping among them,” remarked Ahsan Iqbal.

Regarding the dual degrees and his appointment as ED that has been challenged in the Islamabad High Court, Iqbal said that certain lobbies are against him as he had taken some strict decision against them. The PM has the prerogative to appoint anyone and has exercised his privilege, he added.

According to information, the Ministry of Education, Trainings and Standards in Higher Education wrote a letter to the PM to reinitiate the process of interviews that was put on hold on the advice of Ahsan Iqbal. The secretary of the ministry had also informed IHC during a hearing that three names sent to the PM were rejected and a new committee will hold interviews afresh to select three prospective candidates for the appointment.

The seat was lying vacant since August 26, 2013 after the first term of Dr Javaid Laghari ended. A 6-member search committee to select a new chief, headed by Iqbal, was announced by the PM in January. Some 103 applications were received. Of these, 21 names were short-listed and 18 candidates were called for interview by the previous search committee on February 10-11. The committee chose three names including HEC ED Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, National Textile University Faisalabad Rector Dr Niaz Ahmad and former Karakoram International University vice chancellor Dr Najma Najam.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmed has been Executive Director of the HEC since Feb 2013. Before Joining HEC, he was ISESCO Deputy Director General in Rabat, Morocco. With a Bachelors & Masters of Science from University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan and Master in Business Administration & PhD from University of California, Riverside, USA has over 25 years of educational development and management experience at national and international level, including teaching, research, academic administration, policy development, linking educational research to industry/ commercialisation, introducing entrepreneurial approaches to education and a diverse range of educational development programmes.

But on the flipside, according to other contestants, his dual degrees and appointment as ED is questionable. “The PM has chosen a person with a very shabby past from a panel of names that was rejected by himself and when other 17 candidates were waiting for fresh interview calls as the government maintained before the court”, said one of the candidates.  

Prof Dr Attaur Rahman, HEC founding chairman and Pakistan Academy of Sciences president, maintained that the legal process adopted for the selection was correct but refused to comment on the appointment of Dr Ahmed.

But in a statement issued to media before the appointment, he hoped that while meeting new deadline by IHC, the chairman's position would not be compromised in haste and along with PhD from foreign university, international eminence would also be ensured, which means publications in top notch journals, number of PhD student output, international patents, invited keynote speaker in international conference (outside Pakistan), international awards and honours, competitive research funding from international sources, etc.

As the battle for the slot has already landed in the court, it is feared that the new appointment might be challenged again and the new HEC head might not continue for so long.

Meanwhile, the PM also approved Pervez Said as the House Building Finance Corporation Managing Director. Pervez Said has served as Burj Bank CEO, worked in Al-Meezan Bank, Johnson & Johnson and also served in City Bank.