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 Information Technology

Need to strengthen R&D institutions

An interview with Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, Minister for Science & Technology

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI
Islamabad

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," he observed.

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 implementation.

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 e-commerce solutions.

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 for Pakistan.

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 and technology.

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 developed locally.