Monday June 27, 2022

Road to national reconstruction

August 19, 2020

While Pakistan has struggled over the last 73 years of this existence to become an economic tiger, other nations in South Asia have forged ahead. The failure of our justice system to catch and punish the corrupt leaders while they looted and plundered at will, forced repeated military take-overs.

Enormous damage has been done by the 18th Amendment to our constitution, which has passed the bulk of development funds to the provinces, and much of these ended up in foreign ill-gotten assets of our corrupt leaders. The reluctance of the provincial governments to have local bodies elections exposed the sham parliamentary system of democracy that we have established. Were it not for the wonderful armed forces, Pakistan would have been in much danger.

The founder of our nation Mr Jinnah had warned us of the “poison” of provincialism in the following words: "Now I ask you to get rid of this provincialism, because as long as you allow this poison to remain in the body politic of Pakistan, believe me you will never be a strong nation, and you will never be able to achieve what I wish we could achieve." Speech, Public Meeting, Dhaka, 21 March 1948. Alas, history proved him right again.

The first Industrial Revolution began in 1765, with use of coal for energy and the advent of the steam engine, railroads, and the beginning of large-scale manufacturing and mechanization. The second Industrial Revolution that began in 1870 witnessed the use of new forms of energy such as electricity, oil, gas and led to the development of the combustion engine.

The concept of large-scale manufacturing in assembly lines was introduced by Ford. Automobile manufacturing by Ford in such an assembly plant began in 1904. The Subcontinent missed out on both these industrial revolutions, as they suffered from the domination of the British rule in this region. The 3rd Industrial Revolution began in 1969, with widespread use of nuclear energy and electronics, and rapid developments in the fields of computers and telecommunications.

Now we are into the 4th Industrial Revolution with wide connectivity through the internet, the advent of Programmable Logic Controllers, and the use of robots in industrial manufacture. We are also at the beginning of the 5th Industrial Revolution with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, next generation Genomics, advances in microelectronics, energy storage systems and electric vehicles.

It is through investment in such fields that Pakistan can leap forward. McKinsey Global has predicted an impact of a hundred thousand billion dollars of the new technologies, with artificial intelligence alone having an impact of 15.7 trillion US dollars. If Pakistan can capture even one percent of this huge market, we can enhance our exports by 160 billion US dollars. It is therefore vitally important that the Rs40 billion project submitted by the IT Ministry to the Planning Ministry about a year ago is approved without further delay.

The way forward lies in six key steps that our present government must take. First, we must declare a national education emergency and completely overhaul our education systems that are in a huge mess. Next, we need to uplift our science institutions by training at least 70,000 PhDs in leading universities abroad and attract them back to Pakistan with revival of the performance based tenure track system of salaries and liberal research grants as I had done when I was Chairman HEC. The programme of establishing a network of foreign universities in Pakistan should be revived so that our students could obtain top quality higher education.

Third, innovation and entrepreneurship should be promoted by establishing a large Venture Capital Fund for new start-ups, establishing technology parks and business incubators and offering long-term tax holidays for industrial manufacture and export of high technology products.

Fourth, we need to encourage private sector Research and Development. Private sector R&D has been the key to success of the developed countries and emerging economies where it has grown rapidly. About 70 percent of R&D expenditure in China comes from the private sector. It is about 75 percent in Korea, about 70 percent in Germany and about 68 percent in the US. However, it is less than one percent in Pakistan.

This is due to acute lack of vision of our past planners of the critically important role of private sector research and development in the nation building process. The funds spent by government institutions in R&D are often wasted, as the expenditure is not linked to any long-term roadmap for transitioning to a knowledge economy. Increase in R&D expenditure by the private sector will also create jobs for academic scholars in the private sector.

Next, we need to change the system of governance. A presidential system of democracy is far more suited for Pakistan as there is a much better separation of powers between the three key arms of the governance system, the legislature (parliament), the executive (government ministries and departments) and the judiciary. This is why Mohammed Ali Jinnah had advocated a presidential system of democracy in a hand-written note in his diary in 1947 which is reproduced in ‘The Jinnah Anthology’, edited by Shariful Mujahid and Liaquat Merchant, Oxford University Press.

A graduate degree was made a prerequisite for an MPA / MNA by President Musharraf. Unfortunately, many politicians forged their degrees and influenced the officials of the Election Commission. Cases of some 200 parliamentarians were ultimately discovered with suspect or forged degrees. Some of them eventually became federal ministers, one even became the federal minister of education, and now many of them should be facing jail sentences for forgery and corruption.

The sixth pillar for progress is a completely reformed justice system that delivers justice within 20 days of a case being filed. If we employ 2,000 judges on contract who are given crystal clear KPIs to decide at least 10 cases each month, then 200,000 cases can be decided in the lower courts annually. A similar strategy can be adopted in higher courts. All that is needed is the determination to do this and some funding so that the system can be completely revamped.

Pakistan’s salvation lies in unleashing the creative potential of its young through massive investments in education, science, technology, and innovation. It is only by giving the highest national priority to these that we can manufacture and export high technology goods and rid ourselves of the shackles of poverty and ignorance. This is possible through an honest, visionary and technologically competent leadership.

The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC).