Half a century ago, noted philosopher Professor Alfred North Whitehead, prophesised: “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute; the race which does not value trained intelligence, is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea, can move back the finger of fate. Today we maintain ourselves, tomorrow science will have moved over yet one more step and there will be no appeal from the judgment which will be pronounced on the uneducated”.
This prophecy has now come to pass. The recent treatment meted out to intellectuals, teachers and professors at the hands of meagerly-educated bureaucrats proves this. It sounds harsh. But we are on our way towards a disgraceful future. First, we insulted Professor Dr Abdus Salam, the only Nobel Laureate from our country. Then, we downgraded the highly-respected profession of teaching. Next, my highly competent colleagues and I were treated like traitors at the hands of an all-but-illiterate dictator at the behest of the then US president Bush.
Recently, the most disgraceful treatment was meted out to two of our very competent teachers: Professor Mujahid Kamran (the vice-chancellor of Punjab University) and Professor Akram Chaudhry (the vice-chancellor of Sargodha University). Even before that, a world-class, God-fearing Muslim, Professor Saeed Akhtar was disgraced. Now the axe has fallen on one of the country’s brightest intellectuals, Dr Umar Saif of the Information Technology University, Lahore. Here is the background of this brilliant scholar.
Dr Saif is a distinguished PhD scholar from Cambridge University and has a postdoctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2006, he received the Digital Inclusion Award from Microsoft Research. In 2008, he received the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technovator Award. During the same year, he received the Mark Weiser Award and the IDG CIO Technology Pioneer Award. In 2010, he was named as Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. In 2011, he was placed on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology TR35 list, naming him as one of the world’s top 35 young innovators for developing a BitTorrent client, BitMate, and a text message-based social network, SMSall.
That same year, he became the first Pakistan to receive Google’s Faculty Research Award. Upon learning of his achievements, the then Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif invited him to head the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB).
In November 2011, he was appointed as the chairman of the PITB. In this role, he was made responsible for all public-sector information technology projects in Punjab. In 2012, he established Pakistan’s first technology incubator, Plan 9, with financial support from the government. In response to the 2011 outbreak of dengue fever in Pakistan, PITB, under Dr Saif’s supervision, developed a smartphone-based early warning system to assist medical teams in curbing the outbreaks. For this, he received extensive recognition.
He was also commended for computerising land records in Punjab. On January 20, 2013, he was appointed as the first and founding vice-chancellor of the Information Technology University (ITU) by the government of Punjab. At the age of 34, he became the youngest vice-chancellor of a university in Pakistan at the time.
In August 2014, he was awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz by the government for his services in the field of education and information technology. In 2015, and again in 2016, he was named as one of the 500 most influential Muslims. In November 2016, he was inducted into the cabinet of the then Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif and was appointed as adviser to the chief minister.
In March 2017, he began co-hosting the reality television series ‘Idea Croron Ka’ as business expert. Also in March 2017, he was awarded the Alumni Award in the professional achievement award category of British Council. In April 2018, he was named Unesco chair for using information and communication technology for development purposes.
At the moment, Dr Umar Saif is the most capable and best choice for the vice-chancellor’s post at the Information Technology University (ITU) and also for the Punjab IT Board. By not selecting the best possible candidate, our prime minister and chief minister will not only be interrupting the career of a brilliant scholar, but will also be destroying the future of many intellectuals in Pakistan. These intellectuals will think that intellectual capabilities or achievements don’t count as much as political affiliations, favouritism and connections.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar seems to give preference to Raja Riaz to allocated charge of these “unimportant posts”. This is no different from the manner in which Shahbaz Sharif played with the lives of more than 100 million Punjab citizens when he appointed an ordinary mechanical engineer as adviser/minister of health. Was there not a single qualified medical specialist to be found in Punjab to fill this important post?