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Pakistan: Meeting the Challenges

By Dr. Ata-ur-Rehman

If Pakistan is to progress under Imran Khan, he needs to set up a National Task Force comprising the best professionals and technocrats in the country.

This Task Force should be headed by a top scientist or engineer and have the Prime Minister as its Co-Chairman. Linked to this Task Force should be various Expert Committees such as on Education, Agriculture, Engineering, Information Technology, Communications etc. comprising the best specialists in their respective fields. It should then drive forward the national agenda for socio-economic development and the Ministries should work in close cooperation with this National Task Force. Targets should be given and the performance of each Minister examined once every three months. Those that do not deliver should be summarily removed and replaced by other more competent persons. The capabilities of his team of Ministers will determine if he will succeed. He cannot hope to win a cricket match if he has mustered a football team. This has been the secret of success of countries such as China, Korea, Singapore and other fast progressing countries. The majority of Cabinet members in these countries are top technocrats that have the highest academic degrees in their respective disciplines and an illustrious past record of achievements. The problem with the present Parliamentary system of democracy is that the Chief Executive of the country cannot select the best experts available in the country to head each Ministry. That is why Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah had written in his hand written note in his diary that the Presidential system of democracy is more suited for Pakistan. It allows the democratically elected President to choose his own team from top experts. The note from Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah is reproduced on page 81 of the book entitled “The Jinnah Anthology” published by Oxford University Press. As this is not possible till the Constitution is changed, the National Task Force is the best alternative to move forward quickly led by top professionals.
We need to realise that the cornerstone for socio-economic development must be education, science, technology and innovation. It is only by focusing on these 4 key pillars of development can we hope to transition to a knowledge economy. The foundations of such a system must be built on good merit based governance, and quick access to justice for all.
Countries investing massively in research and innovation are marching forward, leaving others behind. We too must start a massive effort to develop our research institutions and to link the research to industrial and agricultural development so that Pakistan can become a leader in the manufacture of medium and high technology goods. Our exports are largely low value textiles. Textiles constitute only 6% of the world market while 94% of the world market comprises high technology goods such as electronics, engineering goods, pharmaceuticals, ship building, aircraft and automobile manufacture, minerals, IT products, new materials and others. We are absent from all these fields because of the lack of vision of past governments of the way forward. Singapore, a tiny country with a population 1/5 of Karachi, and with no natural resources had exports of an astonishing sum of US $ 330 billion last year.
A beginning towards manufacture and export of medium and high technology goods could be made under CPEC if a joint industrial program is developed in partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Industries and if the Chinese private sector is attracted to invest in such industries through liberal incentives. These incentives could include: (1) 15 year tax holidays (2) provision of electricity and gas at subsidized rates (3) duty free import of raw materials (4) establishment of technician training institutes in each industrial zone so that highly skilled technicians in the relevant fields are readily available, and (5) insurance schemes to cover any losses caused by temporary closure of industries due to acts of terrorism. We should target $ 500 billion worth of investments from the Chinese private sector, and this could happen if we play our cards right.
So what should be the top priorities of the new government? In my opinion, they should be to address poverty through controlling corruption and through launching key programmes in education, science & technology, innovation, health, water, agriculture, energy, health, quick access to justice, defense and industrialization/exports in medium and high technology fields. Each of these will be discussed in some depth in my forthcoming articles.
Firstly we need to focus on education. There are some 100 million youth below the age of 20 in Pakistan. This is a huge resource and if we can tap into the creative talents of this youth, then Pakistan can forge ahead at lightning speed. Primary and secondary education in Pakistan is in a huge mess as there are 5 different Ministries responsible for schools and colleges (4 provincial ministries of education and the Federal Ministry of Education). Thus an integrated effort to uplifting educational standards is not possible. The best way would be to form a Primary/Secondary Education Commission (PSEC) on the pattern of the Higher Education Commission working directly under the Prime Minister. This would require the cancellation of the 18th Amendment which has already done much damage to Pakistan by weakening the Federation and causing chaos in health and higher education sectors. To streamline the higher education sector, the two provincial HECs (Sindh and Punjab) that were formed in direct contempt of the Supreme Court decision (on my petition that higher education was a Federal subject) should be converted into Higher Education Departments and entrusted to uplift non-degree awarding Colleges which are in a very poor state. Higher Education Commission should be given the autonomy that it had when I was Chairman, reporting directly to the PM, and with its Executive Director having the status of a Federal Secretary. After my departure, it was degraded to a status corresponding to a department of Ministry of education. Technical education can be uplifted establishing 30 Technical Teacher’s Training Schools in close partnership with Germany, Austria, China, Sweden, Australia and other countries. The exams and quality assurance should be controlled by foreign partners to ensure top quality. The high quality teachers thus produced should be absorbed with good salaries into the technical schools being run by TEVTA in all provinces, thereby lifting the quality of technical education.
Pakistan stands at a threshold, having had leaders that have looted and plundered at will, supported by foreign forces that assisted them while Pakistan drowned in an ocean of debt. We are fortunate to have a person of the stature of Imran Khan who fought a long and often bitter battle against corruption and who has established a track record of selfless service. We must now all gather round him and use all our energy to pull our country out of the monumental mess that we are now in.
The writer is the former Federal Minister of Science & Technology & Information Technology, Chairman of Higher Education Commission. Currently he is President of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC) and Co-Chairman of UN Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP.


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