God ordained the first thing for the believers to be 'Iqra'. While the literal meaning is 'read'; it underlines the process which enables a creation to understand the goals in life/hereafter. For Joseph Addison it means, "what sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul". Education thus underscores the importance of enlightenment/information. It is a tragedy that Muslims remain, generally, uneducated despite the clear command of God as about one percent comprehend even the Holy Quran. This has hampered their capacity to develop socially etc which could account for their marginalisation. While they had power, education, in some way, figured on their agenda. Hence you have a galaxy of philosophers, scientists etc among the Medieval Muslim Empires which proves HG Wells' wise remark, "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." Pakistan started off with a huge education deficit in 1947. Unfortunately our institutional bankruptcy has kept this important facet, generally, on the back-burner depriving us of indispensable human capital. The reports of various Education Commissions etc are a testament to our casualness. It may be a chicken and egg debate as to whether the fast multiplying numbers deterred educational growth or vice versa. The objective reality is that we are held hostage by lack of food security, water, energy, employment etc, which generate social inequalities, and now the existential threat a la 'extremists'. Such trends have kept political institutions weak and wavering. Hence poor Governance, generally, has ruled the roost in Pakistan as the people lack the capacity to fight for their guaranteed rights. As the public accountability is minimal, thanks to denial of free and fair elections, generally, the civil society reacts to such causes by fits and starts like it did in the lawyers' movement. As some evil genius defined 'literacy' as the capacity of being able to sign one's name in English/ Urdu, thereafter we are able to put out figures which fool nobody. Our performance is writ large all over. Except for some talented students, generally, belonging to the richer sections/ expensive schools, the ordinary MA/ MBA/ LLB is below-par in English etc which is the lingua franca because of the globalisation a la status quo. So much so that even the Chinese/ non-English speaking Europeans are learning it with a zeal. The falling standards, generally, are reflected in the reports of the Federal Public Service Commission. One can't ignore the fact that well-educated rich, except those with rural background, generally, do not find public service attractive in normal times. The emoluments of these cadres promise living under straitened circumstances if one goes by the book. The government tried to provide some financial relief which got nullified by the injurious inflation/ economic meltdown. However, even then one could expect better performance from candidates with middle class background provided they had access to dedicated teachers whose existential problems must be breeding a catch-22 situation for them constantly. The plight of education in Pakistan, despite a mirage of hope, remains dire. Many elements have contributed towards the making of such a morass. First, before 1947, the government schools were well-run. Thereafter, generally, corruption/mal-administration, pulled these schools down tragically. In the rural areas, such schools seldom have full strength of teachers which is manipulated by the 'local influential' to make money. As the people are not free, their reaction is, generally, servile. Till such time that the political parties put primary emphasis on upgrading education on public demand, it'll remain in the throes of crisis. Second, private institutions were encouraged to meet the growing demand. This appears to have proved, generally, a Trojan horse so far. The monitoring appears to be a practical joke like it is in the case of Public Safety Commissions here. Some of these schools are money-making machines whereby the school runs a double-shift and then it turns in to a tuition-centre in the late evening. While it becomes a goldmine for the owner, it is like subverting the mission of education to promote business. As such schools enrol children of the 'influential' and, as the owners roll in wealth, the Govt departments are obliged to look the other way at all kinds of violations of law/ rules. Third most of such concerns are promoting alien culture with abandon to attract more children. Regular musical programmes, mixed parties in American style, reportedly, are held on the cramped campuses. The children are charged heavily for such fun but it must be already letting loose alien moral standards without the integrity/respect for law found in such societies. One family, which has come back after a long stay in UK, told me that its children were not exposed to such nefarious trends even while they were abroad. As money makes the mare go, the owners could not care less what they are promoting. True to our facade such schools also hold a 'milad' once in a while. One such 'money-shark' was a candidate for Imran Khan's TI Party in the last elections. Luckily he never won but some of the incumbents are with similar credentials. Fourth, it appears that, with honourable exceptions, anybody can set up a University or put up a board of the same on any organisation. There are a number of colleges which have been upgraded. Normally such a change would require the bringing in of PhDs etc and considerable research to boast of which can win recognition in the world. As research is not given much importance, the setting up of a university becomes a simple affair. However, it deserves serious consideration as to what are we sowing by producing such degree-holders. Fifth, most private schools are housed in residential areas though, reportedly, land has been allotted by CDA in the allotted zone. Reportedly, in one case a school owner has bribed his way through by tempering with the date of opening of the school so as to qualify for the allotment of the requisite land. However, as accountability appears to have gone to sleep, such characters have nothing to fear. Such locations now face threats of subversion by the extremists as per the reports of the concern of the Islamabad Administration. Any such terrorist act may kill many innocent children besides the neighbours for no fault of theirs except for being found in the threatened-area. Road accidents near such schools are a common happening due to the volume of vehicles etc. Lacking playing grounds etc facilities, the children learn the lesson that law/morality are for others to value; in Pakistan, as Musharraf can certify, nothing succeeds like success for quite a while till something goes seriously wrong. Lastly, Herbert Spencer had said, "Education has for its object the formation of character." If commercial aspect dominates, then its mission gets aborted. That can account for many negative trends in our society. Education can develop a society only if knowledge is spread in the context of a value-system. The product of such an exercise learns the requisite wisdom and contributes accordingly. Such an individual in a free society contributes fully through services rendered as well as by fighting for fairness. It is such individuals who promote the best values. God wanted us to be the 'best Ummah' but why are we undermining His message and making Pakistan a Banana Republic, almost like the 'extremists'. Mark Twain said, "Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run." Let the business of education be the dissemination of knowledge which can make us win against all odds including lawlessness, greed and corruption. The writer is a former Interior Secretary E-mail: imnor@brain.net.pk