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Opinion

July 29, 2015

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Change in the air

Change in the air
In the previous article I discussed how a fresh breeze of change is promising to clean the landscape of Pakistan from corruption and to finally start the journey that was once dreamt of by its founding fathers and for which some 600,000 Muslims of former undivided India sacrificed their lives.
It is unfortunate that the judicial system has contributed in a major way to the proliferation of corruption. The inability or unwillingness of our police to collect evidence against the gangs of murderers has added to the collapsed law and order situation. The murderers of Liaquat Ali Khan, Murtaza Bhutto, Hakim Saeed, Justice Nizam Ahmed and thousands of others continue in their evil ways supported by leaders of some political parties. The advent of General Raheel Sharif and our valiant armed forces to rescue Pakistan from an impending tragedy of monumental proportions is improving the law and order situation, but will they be allowed to perform or will the crooks and murderers who dominate some political parties be the final winners?
The Supreme Court has alas still not permitted the military courts to operate with the result that the terrorists continue to escape unharmed. What our honourable judges need to understand is that there is one thing which is far more important than even our constitution and the laws made under it – the basic right of a human being to a decent life with peace, honour and dignity. This is laid out in the spirit of our constitution and should be the overriding consideration by our Supreme Court and high court judges in the fight against corruption and terror. The existence of Pakistan depends on their taking this view.
So it is vitally important for the Supreme Court of Pakistan at this critical juncture of our history to step in aggressively and give a free hand to our armed forces so that military courts can try and punish not only the terrorists but also those involved in ‘financial terrorism’ – the massive corruption that funds this terrorism. Then, and only then, can a new era of a prosperous Pakistan begin and we can embark on a road to nation building by establishing a strong knowledge economy. Our finance minister seems to have no understanding of the knowledge-driven world that we live in. He seems to believe that reserves of $18 billion are the best indicator of economic prosperity. That is sheer nonsense. The real indicators of prosperity are growth in manufacturing, employment and exports, the changes in the level of poverty and the social indicators in education and health. In all these Pakistan is failing badly while our prime minister embarks on myopic projects of building metro stations.
We should be using our precious resources to build dams so that we can enhance our agricultural output and face the severe droughts that the country will surely face in the two decades because of the devastating effects of global warming. We should also be investing massively in our universities so that each university is funded to a level that is at least one-third of the budget of the National University of Singapore. Today it is about 200 times less, although some increases did occur during my tenure as chairman Higher Education Commission. We should also be investing in judicial and police reforms so that the pathetic law and order situation can be tackled. Instead of that the government feels that roads and metro stations are the answers to all our woes. Of course infrastructure projects are important but they are less important than those involving education, health, manufacturing and agriculture.
Let me illustrate this by a few examples of how innovation is rapidly changing the landscape of the world that we live in. I am presently in Boston where Nobel Laureate Prof Ferid Murad and I co-chair two major international conferences on drug discovery and biotechnology every year (www.ddtwc.com and http://biotechnology-conference.us ). Boston is the hub of knowledge and the universities and research institutions in it are one important reason for the US dominating the world militarily and economically.
The annual research budget of MIT alone is an almost unbelievable $800 million. This is 150 times greater than the total research budgets of all Pakistan’s 157 universities taken together. A significant portion of this budget comes from defence agencies – a lesson that Pakistan’s own armed forces need to learn – strengthening our universities in defence-related projects pays back a thousand fold.
MIT graduates and faculty have founded some 4000 companies that employ over 1.1 million people and have annual sales of over $300 billion. That is the impact of just one institution on the US economy. Pakistan should be doing the same, as was done by Singapore, Korea and is now being done by China – investing most of its resources on a knowledge based economy. We should stop gloating on our reserves of $18 billion (that only show our ability to pay back loans and not the economic prosperity of the country). These reserves should be cut down sharply and invested in projects involving high technology manufacturing, production of high value added agriculture, pharmaceuticals, electronics and other items that will boost our exports from the present $25 billion and bring them at least to the level of Singapore ($458 billion), a country with no natural resources and a population about one-fourth of that of Karachi.
Hundreds of billions of dollars are being earned from new innovations and discoveries that are being made through investments in research. Thus Swiss scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have described a new wonder material that they called ‘molybdenite’ (Molybdenum disulphide, MoS2). It was found to have advantages over silicon that is commonly used in electronics. Molybdenite is an excellent semiconductor and it can be made in very thin sheets that can be employed to manufacture tiny efficient transistors, light emitting diodes (LEDs), computer chips and solar cells. Tomorrow your home walls may glow gently with slowly changing colours, so that your room is lit up in stunning ways.
Some professors at MIT have developed a chemical vapour deposition process to make large sheets of molybdenum disulfide is opening up possibilities of manufacturing computerised clothing, roll-up computers and electronics that can interface directly with human tissue. It may even be possible to spray these materials into walls or windows and convert them into large computer or TV screens. Mirrors, table tops or table plates and glasses could become interactive digital displays and you may be able to connect to the internet through the clothes that you wear.
Today’s research is the multi-billion dollar business of tomorrow. Our government needs to invest in science, technology and innovation and not in motorways and bus stations.
The writer is former federal minister of Science & Technology & former Chairman of the Higher Education Commission. He is also chairman of FPCCI Committee on Higher Education, Science & Technology. Email: [email protected]

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