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Large scale scientific and technological effort is needed today in Pakistan

By S.M. ALAM, M.A. KHAN and R. ANSARI.
Nuclear Institute of Agriculture,
Tando Jam, Pakistan
Oct 30 - Nov 05, 2000

It is now universally recognized that proper scientific and technological support is essential for the economic and social development of any country in a self-reliant and sustainable manner. The slow economic development in Pakistan during the last few decades as well as Pakistan's continued technological dependence on the advanced industrialized countries has to a large extent, been due to our shear neglect of science and technology in the past decades. This is quite obvious from the fact that both the research and development expenditure in Pakistan and the number of scientific and technological persons in the country engaged in science and technology by the United Nations agencies for the low-income developing countries like Pakistan.

Large scale scientific and technological effort is needed today in Pakistan in order to speedily achieve high priority development goals such as large increases in agricultural and industrial production, provision of basic necessities of life-food, clothing, shelter and health cover to common man, optimal exploitation and rational utilization of natural resources, satisfying society's growing demand for energy through substantial augmentation of indigenous energy production potential, modernization of communication network of the country and the over all improvement in the quality of life of the people. The required effort can only be organized and channelled effectively by formulating a comprehensive national science and technology policy programme and by pursuing its dictates as integral part of the national development plans.

Although, this issue has long been discussed and efforts were also made off and on to prepare proposals for the development of scientific and technological effort in Pakistan, still the formulation and adoption of a well planned national science and technology policy remained a dream for the last 53 years, while the country continued to suffer for want of such a planning. As a result of this negligence the science and technology system in Pakistan is today faced with a number of problems such as:

(i) critical size in terms of qualified scientific manpower and woefully meagery outlays on research and development, (ii) lack of well-defined priorities for scientific research and imbalances in the science and technology effort, (iii) isolation of the science and technology system from the national economic planning process as well as from the users of technology i.e. the productive sectors such as industries, agriculture etc. (iv) inadequacy of university research programmes and facilities for post-graduate research degree work, (v) lack of effective science and technology institutions at the grass-roots level e.g. field experiment at stations for creating site-specific technologies, (vi) excessive reliance on foreign sources of technology instead of meaningful utilization and promotion of indigenous technology, (vii) lack of effective co-ordination between scientific establishments leading to fragmentation of national research effort, (viii) lack of conducive environment for research and development work in scientific establishments and organizations, (ix) isolation of Pakistani scientists from active institutions of learning in the world, (x) poor financial resources of non-governmental scientific societies/learned bodies and their consequent ineffectiveness in creating science awareness in the nation and involving the people at large in the process of technological development.

In order to heal this situation to some extent and to make science and technology to play its proper role in the socio-economic development of the country, the government has chalked out a comprehensive science policy with the help of various scientific bodies and organizations and in consultation with a large number of senior scientists, engineers, doctors, professors, intellectuals, learned people, teachers and economists in the country. The implementation of this policy over the coming years will, it is hoped to cultivate the true Islamic spirit of scientific research and scholarship in Pakistan and set the country towards the much desired goal of self-reliant development with equitable distribution of benefits to all social classes. Self reliance in science and technology is a pre-requisite for true political and economic independence. Unfortunately, the development process in Pakistan, like in most other developing countries, has been based largely on technology imported from advanced countries in the form of complete packages and turn-key projects. This has very much downed the development of indigenous technological infrastructure, discouraged local talent and entrepreneurs and increased economic and technological dependence on the supplier nations. Further, as a result of this approach, Pakistan has been incurring an expenditure of several million US dollar per annum for the last many years on account of import of patents, know-how, trade marks and technical services. This is a substantial component of the country's foreign exchange outlay and can be justified only if we get in return judiciously chosen technological know-how necessary to our socio-economic development. Conscious and concerted efforts are therefore necessary to develop indigenous technology based on maximum utilization of local manpower and material resources and to devise a system for selective import of technology sector will be provided with adequate pilot production facilities as well as full professional and operation autonomy. Private industry will also induced to participate in defence production in a befitting manner.

Adequate supply of qualified and suitably trained manpower is essential for the success of the planned scientific and technological development of the country. According to the criteria formulated by UNESCO, developing countries having per capita GNP between $ 100 and $ 200 should have 1400 professional scientists and engineers per million population, of whom 10 % should be engaged in research and development. Although, the total number of professionals in the country is not too far below that required according to the UNESCO criterion, the fraction of these engaged in research and development is only 4 %. The poor quality of the professional manpower being produced in the country is another major weakness of our science and technology system. Emphasis in the next five years should, therefore, be placed on consolidation and qualitative improvement of the existing facilities rather than on opening of new institutions for high level training in science and technology. The science and technology system in Pakistan is also faced with an acute shortage of well-trained technicians and skilled tradesmen.

One of the principal aims to uplift the Science and Technology programme is to create national awareness of the vital importance of science and technology among the citizens for achieving socio-economic uplift of the nation. In this respect, a systematic campaign may be launched to keep the citizens regularly informed of the advances in science and technology as well as their applications and to involve them in programmes for technological development in both rural and urban areas. Science and Technology have acquired an international character today. Close international and regional cooperation in science and technology is, therefore, necessary for sustaining the morale and expertise of the scientific community in Pakistan. The present level of expenditure on scientific research and development in Pakistan is several millions per annum, which amounts to about 0.15 % of the country's GNP. This is much lower than the minimum outlay as worked out through various internationally accepted criteria e.g. as a percentage of Gross National Product ( GNP ), as a fraction of the national development budget, or as an amount per capita of population. The present figure is considered entirely inadequate to meet the requirements of scientific and technological development. It has therefore, been decided to aim at 1 % of GNP as the target level of research and development expenditure in science and technology to be reached not later than 1990. As an intermediate step, and expenditure of thousands of million is envisaged over the next five years in order to attain modest research and development capability in the essential sectors.

At present, the expenditure on research and development effort in science and technology is almost entirely being financed by the Government about 75% being contributed by the Federal Government and the balance 25% by the Provincial Government and agencies. The current contribution of industry and the private sector is minimal, whereas the local bodies in Pakistan have so far not been participating in the research and development effort. Since the increased financing requirements of science and technology activities as envisaged in this policy will be beyond the resources of the government, greater participation of the provincial governments, local bodies, industry and the private sectors will be required for providing the necessary funds.

It is hoped that the announcement of this programme will infuse enthusiasm among the scientists, engineers and technologists of the country and infuse in them a new sense of purpose. The government has decided to provide sufficient institutional support and an adequate level of funding to engage in productive work within the country.

Restrictions of going abroad have been lifted, but it is hoped that these new opportunities will induce our talented youngsters to build and strengthen their base in the country and would also attract the overseas Pakistani scientists and engineers to return here and help to build up a strong and prosperous homeland for ourselves and our future generations.