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University of Karachi VC Prof Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan passes away

Karachi

May 5, 2019

Karachi University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan passed away due to cardiac arrest on Saturday morning. Born on July 1, 1952, he was 66 at the time of his death. He is survived by a wife and three daughters.

His family said that on Friday he went for a dental check-up to a private hospital, where he complained of chest pain. After the initial check-up, the doctors tried for over two hours to sustain his breaths but they failed.

The family was later informed that Dr Khan had suffered a serious heart attack and passed away. In March doctors had advised him to undergo an open heart surgery, but it was delayed because of his full-time engagement in the KU management.

As the news of his death started circulating on social media on Saturday, KU officials rushed to the hospital and took his body to his home at the university. Dr Khan’s funeral was held after the Asr prayer in front of KU’s Masjid-e-Ibrahim and he was laid to rest in the university’s graveyard.

His funeral was attended by the Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah, singer Shahzad Roy, the chief minister’s special assistants Waqar Mehdi and Rashid Rabbani, and politicians including Hafiz Naeemur Rehman, Mirajul Huda, Faisal Subzwari Aminul Haq and Mustafa Kamal.

Former and current VCs of different universities also attended the funeral prayer. They included Dr Muhammad Qaiser, Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, Dr Sarosh Lodhi, Dr Akhtar Baloch, Dr Muhammad Barfat, Dr Muhammad Ahmed Qadri, Dr Syed Altaf Hussain and Waseem Qazi.

Career and achievements

Dr Khan was the 17th VC of KU from January 23, 2017 to May 3, 2019. He was also the founding director of the university’s Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation.

He was a noted botanist and his teaching and research career spanned over 44 years. For his outstanding services in plant sciences he had received numerous prestigious local and international awards, including Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2008.

He also received fellowships of the Fulbright Academy of Sciences and the World Innovation Foundation, Switzerland in 2006. He was the HEC-Distinguished National Professor and Honour Professor, Shijiazhuang Institute for Agriculture Modernisation, China in 2005, Fellow, Third World Academy of Science in 2003, Fellow, Pakistan Academy of Science and Pride of Performance winner in August 2001.

He was given the status of meritorious professor. He had also received the title of Distinguished Scientist for the year 2008 in botany. He was Fellow, Islamic World Academy of Sciences, Fellow, Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Fellow, Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Distinguished Visiting Professor, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia and Qatar Shell Professorial Chair in Sustainable Development, Qatar University.

He was the recipient of the Ohio University Teaching Assistantship (1980-1984); the National Science Foundation, USA postdoctoral fellowship at Brigham Young University, USA (1984-1985); DAAD study visit to University of Munster, Germany (1994); Fulbright visiting scholar, Ohio University, USA (1995-1996) and Adjunct Professorship in the Brigham Young University, USA (1996-1997).

He was an elected member of Sigma Xi, USA, (1985), and Regular Associate member of Dr Abdus Salam International Centre of Theoretical Physics, Italy (1990). During 2000 he was awarded Pakistan Academy of Science and INFAQ Foundation joint gold medal (1999) in the field of botany.

Based on Information Science Institute, Baltimore, USA Journal Citation Report, the Pakistan Council of Science and Technology had ranked him among the leading scientists of all disciplines. He was rated among top five biologists among Islamic countries by COMSTECH.

He was engaged in the development of a variety of halophytes for special uses, salt tolerance mechanisms, seed biology of halophytes. During his teaching career, subjects like physiological ecology of plants, plant ecology, plant population biology, seed biology and evolutionary ecology always got his attention.

He was awarded DSc in botany from KU in 2010, PhD in physiological ecology from the Ohio University in 1985, MSc in plant physiology from KU in 1974 and BSc (Hons) in botany from KU in 1973. He did his intermediate at the Jamia Millia College and matriculation at a government school.

He started his career in 1975 as a research officer of the Pakistan Science Foundation project in KU’s Department of Botany and later as a lecturer in 1977. He was appointed as assistant professor of botany in 1985, associate professor of botany in 1989, professor of botany in 1996, director, Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation in 2007, tenured professor in 2011 and meritorious professor in 2012.

He was among the highest ranked botanists of Pakistan and served KU as a regular faculty member until 2012 and as a visiting professor in several universities of China, Germany, Qatar, the UK and the USA.

He was also chairman, core committee of international experts to rehabilitate coastal Sabkha by the Environmental Agency, UAE and visiting professor under Distinguished Scientist Fellowship Programme, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia. He also served as scientific adviser to vice-chairperson, Qatar Foundation, Doha. He was also the founding director of KU’s Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation (Ishu).

In 2009 he became the first-ever Unesco chair-holder in Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation with Ishu as the global hub for supporting halophyte research. In 2012 he assumed the position of Qatar Shell Professorial Chair in Sustainable Development and Coordinator, Food Security Programme at Qatar University. He was instrumental in creating the Centre for Sustainable Development, Qatar University and headed the food security programme.

His group at Ishu has patented a non-conventional fodder crop for saline barren lands. A successful pilot project in Thar indicates that the successful implementation of this technology has the potential to make drought redundant.

He had also edited over a dozen books and published 388 research papers with a cumulative impact factor of more than 284; RG index of 40.26; h-index of 59 and i10-index of 253.

He completed over 40 research projects on various aspects of salt tolerance in plants and had done pioneering work on mechanisms involving endogenous growth inhibitors under salt stress.

The authenticity and uniqueness of his research has received wide acclaim from his peers and fellow researchers, and his publications are repeatedly cited in papers from various corners of the world. The quality and impact of his research can be gauged by more than 20,303 citations in international publications by peers in the field.

Besides his personal achievements, he trained and motivated a number of researchers to continue his legacy of scientific excellence towards ensuring food security for future generations.

Condolences

Governor Ismail said Dr Khan was one of the greatest scientists in the country and his death was a great loss for the academic community as well as for the country.

MQM’s Aminul Haq said Dr Khan was the only academic who had been struggling to make KU one of the best universities. For this cause, he talked to the HEC and also inked a number of MoUs with various international educational institutes and research centres.

Education Minister Shah said Dr Khan’s services for education would be remembered forever in the academic history of Sindh. He was a great educationist and one can hardly take his place, he added.

Academics including University of Sindh VC Prof Dr Fateh Muhammad Burfat, Federal Urdu University VC Syed Altaf Hussain, SMIU VC Muhammad Ali Sheikh, Iqra University VC Waseem Qazi and many others expressed their grief over Dr Khan’s demise. In separate statements, they lauded his services and condoled with his family.

The KU administration has announced that all classes and exams scheduled for Sunday (today) have been postponed and new dates would be announced later. The scheduled academic activities remained suspended on Saturday as well.

The university will also hold a reference meeting at 10am at the Arts Auditorium on Monday (tomorrow), followed by Quran Khawani at Jamia Masjid Ibrahim.

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