Turning a business eye on Pakistan’s science

27 Feb 2009

Azam Khan Swati became Pakistan’s new Minister of Science and Technology last month.

A U.S.–trained lawyer who built a chain of convenience stores before returning to Pakistan in 2003, Swati belongs to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy) party, which draws its support from a Taliban stronghold along the northwest border with Afghanistan.

Q: What’s the biggest problem facing research in Pakistan?

Science and technology in Pakistan, other than in the Higher Education commission [and] in health, has been completely
neglected. The missing piece hat I have seen is this: There are no private-public partnerships. … We are not strengthening the industrial capacity f the country.

Q: What needs to be changed?

Our science and technology at the present time only consists of whatever you can see in the library, seminars, and articles.
But the practical application or the execution of such a valuable asset has been completely missing. Look at waterlogging [of soil, which can hurt agriculture]. … [Our research] is confined only to models. … Why have we not taken that model, given it to those feudal lords who own thousands of acres of land, and help[ed] them wake up so we can make a practical difference? We have good engineers, good technicians—we have a good, skilled resource—and we need to see why it is not working efficiently
as compared to India or China.

Q: Is more money the solution?

We do not need research [that does not help] create something useful for this country.… So we are not going to spend
on research that has already been conducted [elsewhere]; we can borrow from those countries.

©2009 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science
note: This article was originally published without a title, in Science’s “Newsmakers” section.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

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