Bilawal, the 21-year-old son of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, has graduated in history from the prestigious Christ College at Oxford University even as much has been written about his father President Asif Ali Zardari's degree from an institution called Pedinton School in London.
"I'm so proud of my brother! Congratulations for achieving amazing results and making our mother proud! I love my family so much!" reads a post on Twitter by Bilawal’s younger sister Bakhtawar. Bakhtawar, who is enrolled at Edinburgh University and is a budding rapper, followed up the "thank you" messages with another tweet: "MashaAllah. Thank you everyone for the overwhelming tweets!"
In June, Pakistan’s Supreme Court and parliament’s standing committee on education directed the Higher Education Commission to verify the academic qualifications of members of provincial and national assemblies after over a dozen lawmakers were found in possession of fake degrees. So far, the probe has established that about 30 lawmakers submitted fake degrees with their nomination papers during the 2008 elections.
"We received 1,065 degrees of the lawmakers and verification of 511 degrees has been completed so far," Mahmood Raza, Advisor to the Higher Education Commission, told a news conference last week. Pakistani lawmakers have acquired degrees from fancily named universities in the US and the UK – and in one case from Hawaii.
Law Minister Babar Awan said in papers submitted to the Election Commission that he obtained his PhD from University of Monticello in Hawaii. However, an American court ruled as far back as 2000 that the institution is a "non-recognised and non-chartered university" that cannot offer degrees. Long before Awan and others embarrassed the government, Zardari’s "fake degree" issue had haunted him.
Zardari, who is apparently not a graduate, was in trouble till the Supreme Court struck down a rule introduced by former President Pervez Musharraf that made it mandatory for persons contesting elections to be graduates. "I do have a degree. That is not an issue. I think it's a Bed degree. I haven't really looked at it," Zardari told the New York Times two years ago.
In the early 1970s, Zardari went to London where, he said in an interview, he attended the London School of Business Studies and received a bachelor of education degree. However, his official biography says he attended a commercial college called Pedinton School.
Edubase UK, Britain's official body that maintains records of private and public educational institutions, seemed clueless about the institution Zardari attended in London. When the fake degree controversy erupted recently, Baluchistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani shocked everyone by saying: "Mera mohqaf saaf hai. Degree, degree hota hai, woh asli ho ya jaali ho. (My position is clear. A degree is a degree, whether it is real or fake)".
Blogger Adil Najam wrote on his ezine: “Our own position on the issue is clear. While we do not agree that 'a degree is a degree is a degree', we do very much believe that 'a lie is a lie is a lie'.
The fact that you get away with a big lie is no reason to argue that you should also be allowed to get away with a small lie. "Let’s catch the ones we can and set the examples we can so that the pressure also mounts on stopping the big lies," he wrote.