Riaz Al-Malik Hajjaji’s comment on Ayaz Amir’s commendable column on Axact


One of the most balanced articles on AXACT that highlight the staggering hypocrisy of Pakistan’s elitist liberals.

Pakistanis, especially Shia muslims are being massacred daily. Christians are being regularly attacked. The Punjab provincial government, lead by Shahbaz Sharif; the brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif literally got away with the murder of Anti-Taliban Sunnis in Model Town. The army and government have squandered billions and failed to deliver. The same media champions who present themselves as the paragon of virtue are now pretending they knew nothing about AXACT’s “products”.

The former chief justice and his son exploited the Supreme Court of Pakistan for their nefarious and large scale corruption and nepotism and the same liberals who mock AXACT stayed silent; or worst defended the misdeeds of their icon, the corrupt former chief justice, PCO Chaudhary.

Yet it seems that AXACT is the only one in Pakistan whose business practices are questionable- and the chorus against it is lead by a chauvinist, Taliban apologist and politically biased (Pro PML N) JANG group that ostensibly used its dirty influence with the Supreme Court to evade billions of ruppess in taxes

Will the FIA go after the Deobandi terrorist groups like ASWJ-LeJ with the same fervour that they have applied to AXACT?

Axact: flying too close to the sun

Declan Walsh is a serious journalist and as a reporter he has written good stuff. But when the New York Times adopts a high moral posture about anything, and even if it is right on the mark, I find myself twisting my face.

The Iraq war was a screw-up, as most people now seem to understand although not many people held to this opinion at the time. One of the great trumpeters of that war based on lies was the NYT. If after getting such a big thing wrong it gets smaller things right, does it really matter?

Selling fake educational degrees is of course a very bad thing, although when we look at the principal victims, the ones who got conned the most, I can’t help laughing a bit. There must have been a few Pakistanis sucked into the swindle but for the most part Axact – the parent IT company based in Karachi – spread out the net for Americans, Arabs and Indians.

Leaving aside our Arab brothers, Americans and Indians are supposed to be smart people. But is hunting for a degree on the internet a very smart thing to do? Unless you know it’s a con and you aim to benefit from it. So were Axact’s victims gullible or over-clever? And how come Axact, or its surreptitiously sponsored websites, were able to pull off this scam for so long?

There’s a touch of genius about the whole thing, colleges and universities existing on nothing as coarse as the ground on which we stand but in space…out there in the ether, which is another name for the imagination. Now if anyone falls for a university by the name of ‘Barkley’ or ‘Columbiana’ – two of the names figuring on the websites – then I would humbly submit that he/she deserves to be swindled.

Double Shah promised to double your money. There were people in the tens of thousands who took leave of their senses and fell for the gambit. Weren’t they asking to be swindled?

There are all sorts of websites promising all sorts of things – dating, marriage, Filipino and Russian brides, virility, etc. The Romans had it right: caveat emptor, which my Oxford Dictionary puts as… “the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.”

Conmanship is an art – from the roadside performer selling spurious remedies for impotency to finance companies promising extraordinary rates of interest and email scam artists writing from Nigeria and Liberia or places like that and saying that they have 10 million dollars to invest and would you care to be their partner. Axact just may have done it on a bigger scale, and with greater sophistication. It probably went too far which is the Icarus syndrome all over – getting too ambitious and flying higher and higher until you fly too close to the sun and your wings are burned and you plunge to your doom.

This is what happened with BCCI, the bank led by Agha Hasan Abedi. It had a meteoric rise and then it got too careless by going into money-laundering on a big scale until it caught the attention of American regulators.

This is also what happened with our Oppenheimer, who not content with developing the bomb had to set himself up as an international salesman of the stuff he dealt in. He’s probably right to say that he was not alone in it – centrifuges after all not exactly ballpoint pens that you can stick in your pocket and walk around with. Luckily for him and Pakistan the Americans caught on to him very late. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been too difficult for him to be picked up from Dubai which he visited frequently. That was then. Dr Khan now writes movingly of the importance of regular prayers and ablution (wazoo).

Axact falls into much the same category. It became too good for its own good – too many glamorous websites and much questionable stuff. Sooner or later someone was bound to take notice. It was just Axact’s bad luck that it had to be Walsh who is very diligent and takes great trouble over his stories.

My concern is slightly different. Is this scam bigger than the LNG deal about which no one seems to know much? Is it bigger than the other scams in our recent history – independent power producers who are still milking the country dry, the rental power scam, the Saifur Rehman stories, the NLC scam in which three generals were said to be mixed up, and so on? The list is long. Is it worse than the Model Town cover-up? The Joint investigation Team has cleared everyone’s name – CM, Rana Sanaullah, Tauqir Shah et al – and blamed only one SP and several low-ranking police officers. Which is worse, a fake degree or sick buffalo meat on sale in the Paris of the East, Lahore?

This issue has created such a commotion only because of the NYT. Over the years the NYT has accused Pakistan of many things – colluding with the Taliban, of being a duplicitous ally, etc. Such stories have been downplayed here, if not pooh-poohed. But the Axact story has triggered a firestorm.

One reason for this, as all of us know, is the media angle to the story. One sign of Axact flying too high was the way it went about promoting its stillborn TV channel and poaching talent from other channels – through sweetheart deals which looked very attractive. This had already set off a swirl of rumours about who was behind the channel and where the money was coming from. So much so that an underworld don figured in the guessing game. Given all the rumours, when Declan’s story broke a firestorm was almost inevitable, the hype surrounding Bol, the nascent TV channel, guaranteeing the publicity.

The sticking in of knives which we are seeing was thus only natural….given the competition and the cutthroat nature of the media business in Pakistan.

There’s also another angle. Our interior minister is a man sidelined…someone no longer in the central councils of the government. This obliges him to justify his existence by appearing to look active and making meaningless press declarations.

The Safoora Goth massacre takes place and the PM and army chief rush to Karachi. Five or six days later the interior minister goes there…to say things which add to no one’s knowledge. The NYT story breaks and he is quick to order an FIA probe. (Just as he was quick to jump the gun on the Musharraf treason case, mess left subsequently for the PM to handle.)

The model Ayyan Ali’s indictment for currency smuggling has been turned into a spectacle. It’s been weeks now and the customs authorities have been unable to unblock her cell phone. Let’s see how the FIA cracks this slightly more complex case.

Just a thought, however…for the most part the spurious PhDs and other degrees catered to the US market. Did it not rest principally with the US authorities to look into this matter?

Anyway, fascinating saga. It was also good to watch the Axact supremo, the man behind it all, Shoaib Sheikh on television. Someone with lesser self-confidence would have wilted. But there he was denying everything and saying that his company only created and sold portals – if that is the right word – and had nothing to do with the selling of degrees. Cyberspace is difficult territory to explore but one of the merits of Declan’s story is that he follows the evidence to make a connection with the parent company.

My feeling is that Bol, by dint of association, stands damaged. Mystique in such things is crucial and that once shattered is hard to put together again. But the clever CEO…he looks too slippery to be caught on any hook easily.

Anyway, my toast will always be for a story which sells well. Double Shah I envy; the Axact CEO I envy more. This was as riveting a scandal as we have had for a long time, pushing even Ayyan Ali far back into the shade.