An interview with Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, Minister for
Science & Technology
From SHAMIM AHMED
Mar 18 - 24, 2002
The 10th General Assembly of the OIC Standing
Committee of Scientific and Technological Cooperation ended in
Islamabad with the call to the member states to strengthen research
and development institutions in order to reduce dependence on other
countries in the field of science and technology. The Assembly adopted
a number of resolutions at its concluding session, inter alia, urging
for generously financial support in the pursuit of science and
technology. In his concluding address, President Gen Pervez Musharraf,
who is also COMSTECH Chairman hoped that it will continue to assist
Ummah in the field of science and technology despite its financial
constraints. While stressing the need for establishment of a special
funds for research and development in science and technology,
President General Musharraf appealed to rich Muslim countries to
contribute generously to the proposed fund. He announced that his
minister for science & technology will visit these countries as
his special emissary to meet & convince their governments for
generous participation in the programme. The Ummah has already
suffered enough due to the casual approach to this vital instrument of
development. It can't afford lethargy or apathy on this count any
more. The available resources must be utilised to improve the
scientific and technological knowledge in the Muslim World. "Ummah
has greatly suffered due to lack of industrial base in the Muslim
countries, which are dependent on imports from needle to the aircraft.
The situation must be reversed and reversed quickly by attaining
self-sufficiency in industrial field, which will also provide a base
for defence industry," he added.
The President said he was a strong believer
"in seeing ourselves in a mirror" and added that he would
frankly do this. Thus he started passionately counting many
imperfections. "W are the poorest, most illiterate, most
backward, most deprived and weakest of the human race today."
The reason for the dismal situation is that there
is a wide technological gap between Muslim countries and outside
world. In the Muslim World, there are a total of 430 universities, and
in Tokyo alone there are 1,000 universities. While the entire Ummah
produces 2500 Ph.Ds annually, Britain alone produces 3000 Ph.Ds.
"This is the true state of affairs which is heart breaking,"
That the President General Musharraf is fully
conscious of the backwardness of the Islamic World in the field of
Science & Technology has been demonstrated from his various action
since he assumed power. Despite financial constraints he has supplied
generous funds to the Ministry of Science and Technology. His cabinet
approved in July 2000 a 3 years action programme and committed
generous funds to the tune of Rs. 5 billion for this purpose as he
wanted to make up for the past lapses. He gave almost a free hand to
his Minister for Science & Technology, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, a well
known expert in the field.
PAGE sent a set of questions to the Minister
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman and asked for an interview for the special issue on
IT which appeared last week.
The interview fixed was however cancelled at the
last moment due to pre-occupation of the minister.
Any how the questions put to the Minister and
answers received are reproduced below.
Question: An IT Policy and a 3-year Action Plan was
approved by the government in July 2000 and an allocation of Rs. 5
billion was committed to carry out the programme. Now much expenditure
has been incurred so far and what is the stage of programme
Reply: In year 2000-2001 Rs. 1100 million were
given towards IT&T Div. budget. In year 2001-2002 allocation of Rs.
2.5 billion is granted. All the Rs. 1100 million were disbursed for
different projects during last year. This year again it is expected
that all of the funds given to IT&T Division will be used.
IT programme implementation is going very well and
its impact is visible throughout the country, details are provided in
the answer to the next question.
Question: What are the achievements
in the following sectors included in the action plan.
1) Human Resource Development.
2) Institutional capacity building.
3) IT industry development and promotion.
4) Infrastructure development.
5) E. Commerce.
Reply: 1) HRD: Majority of the projects
launched by IT Div. focus on human resource development throughout the
country. All Public sectors universities have been provided every
support (as well as technical) to strengthen their IT Departments and
at least double the financial enrolement in IT department.
Just recently another major initiative of granting
endowment funds to universities has been launched to facilitate higher
studies (Ph.D, M.Phil etc.) in IT.
2) Institutional capacity building: IT&T
Div is providing every support to universities for capacity building
of the IT Departments. It includes helping in finding foreign
qualified faculty, training in house faculty etc.
3) IT industry development: Just recently a
number of projects amounting to more than Rs. 100 million through PSEB
have been launched to develop the local IT industry. These projects
include local SW development, helping local companies prepare for
international business, sponsoring and assisting local companies for
IT exhibitions etc.
4) Infrastructure development:
5) E-Commerce: Studies on e-commerce are
underway and government is working on e-commerce laws to facility the
Question: The 10th General Assembly
of OIC Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation
(COMSTECH) was recently held in Islamabad and event was described as a
big success. What specific benefit it has brought or promises to bring
Reply: The 10th General Assembly meeting
held in February in Islamabad was a big success because 49 delegations
from OIC member states including 24 ministers and international
organizations gathered here in Islamabad and discussed the state of
Science and Technology in OIC region. The delegates decided to make
all efforts to improve dismal state of scientific development. They
also probed the circumstances of limited funding that is available for
science and technology in the member states and agreed to sensitize
their governments to come up with more funding for scientific
development and the development of human resources in areas of science
Question: As a special emissary of
the President General Pervez Musharraf, you are to meet and convince
the head of the Islamic States for generous contribution for creating
a sizeable funds for promotion of science and technology in the
Islamic World. What are the estimated financial requirements and how
much do you expect to raise from your visit?
Reply: The General Assembly of COMSTECH
supported efforts of the President General Pervez Musharraf who is
sending me as the emissary for raising a multi-billion dollar fund for
development of science and technology in the Muslim World. I will
undertake these visits to selected OIC member states starting from
Gulf region. I will try to emphasize the importance of scientific
development to the Muslim heads of state. The proposal is to bring and
raise more than a billion US dollars for setting up an endowment fund
that will support human resource development and scientific
development in science and technology areas and create centres of
excellence throughout the OIC region.
Question: It is now being commonly
complained that even highly qualified young men and women in IT and
Computer Science are finding it difficult to get a job. What are your
comments? If the complaints are justified.
a) What action your Ministry is taking to
find jobs for these young men and women within and outside Pakistan?
b) In this contest, how will you justify the
huge investment to promote IT Education in Pakistan?
Reply: This is an incorrect assumption,
there is still a huge demand for good IT professionals and secondly it
is expected that the demand for IT professionals will be growing
locally and internationally in coming years. However we are focusing
on the employment generation in local IT industry and all of the new
projects are encouraged to include the software component to be