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Monday, May 29, 2023

The downhill slope in Pakistan’s industrial development: Who is to blame?

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Dr. Farid A. Malik |

Recently the President of Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) has highlighted the importance of Industry-academia linkages. In the year 2003, as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, I approached the same Chamber for a meeting, which was turned down. At that time the city was doing wonders. There were export orders and a lot of revenue. A do-it-yourself approach was adopted.

Forty projects were launched by ILG in which solid linkages were established.

An airport was also built by the private sector to facilitate exports. The exporters wanted to do it on their own without help or facilitation from outside. I did not give up, luckily two of my students were working for Saga Sports, the pride of Sialkot. It was a complete city with its own hospital, school, and playing fields. Through their good offices, I was able to meet the executive committee of SCCI to discuss linkages not just with academia but also public sector technologies available in Defence Production enterprises around Islamabad.

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In order to interact with the industry, an industry liaison group ILG was formed at PSF and the first MBA was hired to introduce commercial sense into research. ILG has now been renamed as R & D Industry Programme. Under this approach, projects were sought from the industry together with a concept of the end user. It was a triangular approach. End-user, researcher, and funding linked together for the commercial application. Forty projects were launched by ILG in which solid linkages were established.

A corrosion laboratory was set-up at the University of Punjab to investigate Dis-bonding of the coating of the underground gas pipelines. Sui Southern was the end-user while the research was carried out by Dr. Ijaz Hussain Khan of Institute of Chemical Engineering and Technology (ICET), funding was jointly provided by PSF and SSGC. The expertise of two expatriates was also sought. Dr. Amir Hussain from Germany studied the coating interface while Dr. Inam Khokhar of USA looked at the potential corrosion threat together with Dr. Khan. It was for the first time that the entire project was successfully accomplished without the involvement of expensive foreign experts.

Today exports are down. Research is needed to add value while the researchers lack the capacity for commercial application. As a nation, we started off well but then lost track in between.

In 2003, Sialkot had export orders for sports, surgical, and leather goods with Saga Sports producing soccer balls for the industry leaders. There was not much interest in research as business was thriving. I requested them to involve local researchers so that their capacity could be enhanced. Finally, on my insistence Saga Sports agreed to use the embossing system at Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT), which was grossly underutilized. The proposal was to send 40,000 soccer balls daily for embossment at HIT. It was a win-win situation for both revenues for HIT and savings of capital investment for Saga.

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Today exports are down. Research is needed to add value while the researchers lack the capacity for commercial application. As a nation, we started off well but then lost track in between. At the time of partition, we decided to follow the Western route of technology development i. e. scientific research followed by its application and finally commercialization. All three areas require separate expertise which must be understood. In 1947, the father of the nation wrote to Prof. Rutherford, the Noble Laurate in Physics, seeking his help in starting research in the country. On his recommendation, his student Dr. Rafi Chaudhry joined Government College Lahore. The first high tension Physics lab in Asia was established by him which stands tall across the road from the main gate of the civil secretariat. By mid-fifties, the entire framework was in place. Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and 12 TCF of gas at Sui was discovered. We were ready to take off.

What went wrong?

Military regimes have hurt technological development in the country with Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman being an exception under General Musharraf. He was able to bring in much-needed resources. The elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) formed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to streamline funding for universities. Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) was created to link research with industry. On February 02, 1973, the Pakistan Science Foundation Act was passed by the National Assembly as an autonomous body to promote and fund scientific and technological research. For the formulation of policies, Pakistan Council of Science and Technology (PCST) was formed. For the purposes of coordination, the National Science Council (NSC) was also established which now lies defunct.

The technological vision can only be realized through professional management of this vital sector of advancement and socio-economic development.

The Chairman PSF, once appointed, could not be removed before the completion of his term. Under General Zia, an amendment was issued to appoint a favorite. Now the President has the power to send the Chairman home at will. Ever since the ‘Baboos’ took over the Ministry of Science and Technology, the entire process of development has been derailed. The gains under the leadership of Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman were neutralized by the Baboo-e-Azam who ran the ministry after his departure. He is now a special advisor to the Prime Minister. Every time I raised the importance of industrial linkages I was blamed of bias against basic research. There was no concept of linking science with technology for which the ministry was created under ZAB regime.

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From the standpoint of technology, Pakistan is not a pygmy. We can produce tanks and airplanes but cannot make an acceptable bicycle or auto rickshaw. The challenge is in the application and commercialisation of the indigenous know-how and capability, for which effective linkages are needed. The first step is to cleanse the ministry (MOST) of Baboos followed by the appropriate leadership of the universities and the over 200 R&D institutions in the public sector. The unlinked, purposeless, and directionless research will get us nowhere. An overhaul and major change of direction are needed to realize the dream of Quaid-e-Azam which was ably supported by Quaid-e-Awam after which there has been a constant decline which must be reversed for technological advancement of the country.

The technological vision of the two Quaid’s can only be realized through professional management of this vital sector of advancement and socio-economic development as envisioned by them.

Dr. Farid Malik is a prominent technical and management expert in mining, materials, engineering and high-tech industry; he is a regular columnist for The Nation and Pakistan Today. He is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. This article was first published in The Nation and is republished with the permission of the author. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.