July 07 - 13, 2008

As engineers, while we can be rightly proud of the tremendous role the technology and engineering played in enabling industrialization in Pakistan, there is a lot more to be desired in national direction. Technology and engineering translate scientific knowledge into action. Its judicious application results in enhancing our lives and improving our society.

Thus science, technology and engineering play a catalytic role in the growth of economic sectors including agriculture, infrastructure, energy, mining, manufacturing and service sectors. Technology is said to be the lifeline of industry. It caters to improved productivity and rapid industrialization. Thus it meets the needs of export enhancement and large-scale employment.

Unfortunately, this key element of development has not been recognized as such and thus not been provided with a conducive environment. For almost a decade, Pakistan has virtually remained without an industrial policy and a worthwhile science and technology policy. In fact, science, technology and engineering never received the priority it should have had in government planning.

There has been a lot of lip service and programming at the highest levels, but, it was accorded least priority. For example, the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) has not met since December 1, 2001. The Commission, headed by the Prime Minister, is the apex body for science and technology development.

Being dormant from the very early days of its inception in 1984, the NCST was revived in the year 2000 but since then it could hold only two meetings. In fact, the motivating forces behind its revival were Dr A. Q. Khan and Dr. Jameel Ahmad Khan, both have been eclipsed now.

The Commission is mandated to promoting science and technology, accelerating scientific and technological capacity building, and creating linkages with production sector and development plans, by implementing major projects. Though a number of projects were initiated in the last meeting of the NCST, with the exception of those in higher education, most of them have run into snags due to lack of political will and commitment.

There has been no review of the vital projects at the NCST level. For instance, Pakistan Technology Board was constituted with the objective to commercialize indigenous technologies and to channelize transfer of advanced technologies in capital intensive projects. Nothing concrete has been done in this direction.

A half-hearted effort was made in 2005 to launch the "Technology-based Industrial Vision and Strategy for Pakistan's Socio-economic Development". It was a non-starter as the assignment was given to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), whereas the key stakeholders were not associated with the exercise.

The study, along with a set of recommendations to optimize technology's contribution to economic growth, was nonetheless presented to the government in October 2006. The Cabinet approved the document after almost a year---on August 18, 2007 but till now the proposed action plan has not been initiated. This demonstrates apathetic attitude of the government towards technology and industrialization.

The 270-page report has critically analyzed the status of agriculture and major segments of the industry like textiles, leather, materials, chemicals, engineering goods, electronics, and infrastructure including energy-power, telecommunication, construction and housing and transport. The chapter related to "engineering goods industry of Pakistan" is totally void of description of heavy engineering industry that is considered vital for any economy. So much about the validity of the document!

The report has nonetheless recognized the gap that exists between Pakistan and the developed countries, and highlighted need to bridge it through strengthening its technological and engineering base and formulating a long-term industrial policy.

Outline of an action plan, separately for each sub-sector, provided for improving the policy and regulatory framework, technology up-gradation, incentives for value-addition, improving product quality and manpower development, had been proposed. The government was urged to invest $10-12 billion by 2010 for increasing the share of industrial sector in GDP to 25 per cent and the share of engineering goods to 30 per cent of manufacturing, in the first phase.

It was expected that this investment would help providing goods of international quality at competitive prices and facilitate in exploiting the niche in global translocation of industrial production, which could take Pakistan to the path of rapid industrial development. All these objectives seem unrealistic to achieve under the given conditions.

Today, Pakistan faces increasing challenges in the economic, fiscal, social and environmental fields. The key economic indicators have declined persistently. Foreign exchange reserves are depleting; balance of payment is consistently negative. Trade deficit has reached alarming levels and exports are dwindling. Industry is in a shambles. Power shortages are widening and security of food items supply is not assured. Inflation is high and unemployment is increasing.

The new popular government, which should be pro-active in promoting industrial technology, would be well advised to consider adopting concrete measures, on priority basis, to meet these challenges. For creating global competitiveness in all sectors of economy, it is needed to simultaneously develop environment, technological infrastructure and policy instruments.

The government should formulate the policy for selection, assimilation, diffusion and use of technology in industry and business as well as in agriculture, infrastructure and other economic sectors. Also, the government has to play key role in commercialization of the selected technologies through a system of cooperation between R&D on one part and industrial and related sectors on the other.

(Engr Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui, former Chairman of State Engineering Corporation, is on the Board of Directors of National Engineering Services Pakistan Pvt Ltd, NESPAK, Ministry of Water and Power).