Pakistan the way forward Atta-ur-Rahman

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Pakistan – the way forward


Thursday, August 18, 2011

From Print Edition
We live in an age in which natural resources have diminishing importance. Knowledge has become the single most important factor for socio-economic development. Countries that have realised that their real wealth lies in their children and invested massively in education, science, engineering and innovation have surged forward, leaving others behind. Just one company of Finland (Nokia), a country with a population about one-fourth of Karachi, has exports that are double the entire exports of Pakistan! Singapore, also with a similarly small population, has exports of $351 billion, almost 18 times those of Pakistan. South Korea revamped its educational system, laying emphasis on higher education, science and technology, and increased its university enrolment from five percent of the age group in 1960 to 92 percent of the same age group in 2010. The result was an astonishing increase in its exports, from $32 billion in 1960 to $466 billion by 2010. (Pakistan’s exports stagnate at about $20 billion.)


What went wrong in Pakistan? Since its formation in 1947 Pakistan has been facing one crisis after another. It is oscillating between successive democratic and military regimes. Regular military interventions were necessitated by corrupt governments which looted and plundered at will whenever they got an opportunity to do so, putting to shame the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah of a progressive, modern Pakistan. The military governments failed to punish those criminal politicians and bureaucrats who amassed vast fortunes abroad.


In contrast, India brought in genuine land reforms and, guided by the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru, gave the highest emphasis to education, science and technology. In contrast, Pakistan – where a robust middle class did not emerge because of the absence of land reforms – has developed one of the worst school systems in the world. The powerfully entrenched feudals, who have a stranglehold on the cabinets and parliaments, gave education the lowest importance, with Pakistan spending only 1.2 percent of its GDP, which makes it comparable to Bhutan, Nepal or Togo. We are now ranked among the bottom 10 countries of the world in terms of investments in education, a shameful fact about a nuclear power. The result has been an illiterate and lawless nation, drowning in foreign loans while the powerful loot and plunder.


What, then, is the way forward? Clearly, the British parliamentary system of democracy has been an abject failure. Military rule is also not an answer. Learning from bitter experiences, we need to adopt a system of governance which will root out and prevent corruption and promote the development of a strong knowledge economy. The following key proposals are made in this connection:


1. Governance Reforms: We need to bring in constitutional and governance reforms by abolishing the present parliamentary form of democracy (which is bringing up largely corrupt politicians – 51 were found to have forged degrees and the degrees of another 250 are suspect) and replace it with a presidential form of democracy. The cabinet ministers, who should be eminent experts in their respective fields, could then be appointed directly on merit by the president (who will be the chief executive), from outside parliament. The Constitution will need to be changed to make this happen.


The revised Constitution should also ensure that parliamentarians are highly educated, as their primary job is lawmaking. Government secretaries should all be persons of international repute in the fields in which they are holding secretarial positions, and be selected on merit after open competition. The above measures will ensure that there will always be a competent government of technocrats. The positions of president, secretaries and parliamentarians should be screened by an Eminent Citizens Committee to be appointed by judges of the Supreme Court for “suitability” prior to their election/appointment. Persons judged by this committee as having “doubtful reputation” should not be allowed to contest any elections or hold any key positions in government or in government-controlled institutions. The heads and members of the boards of governors of public-sector organisations (PIA, the Steel Mills, etc.), as well as of such organisations as the Federal Board of Revenue, the FIA, the NAB, should be appointed by their respective boards of governors on merit after screening by the Eminent Citizens Committee, and not by the government. They should work as completely autonomous organisations reporting to their own eminent boards of governors and not to any government ministry or official. It is notable that the former federal minister of finance, Mr Shaukat Tareen, estimated corruption of Rs500 billion annually in the FBR alone!


2. Education: If we are to rid ourselves of the crushing poverty and the huge national debt, we must develop a robust knowledge economy. This is only possible if we make necessary amendments to our Constitution to force our decision-makers to give education the highest national priority. Malaysia has been investing 30 percent of its budget for the last 30 years – we must by a constitutional requirement do the same. The only way out for Pakistan from its myriad difficulties – law and order problems, corruption, non-functional democracy, poverty, industrial stagnation, etc. – is to make quality education the launching pad for a new Pakistan. With about 90 million young people below the age of 19, we have a tremendous potential human resource. This offers a unique opportunity for development. If we empower this huge young workforce with quality education and training, and provide opportunities for jobs in key economic sectors, then a wonderful future lies ahead. If we don’t, then this can become a stifling burden that will only lead to massive poverty, frustrations and crime.


Massive investments in education at all levels will allow us to develop the knowledge workers that are needed in high-tech industries – engineering goods, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology products, metallurgy, information technology, electronics, high value-added agriculture products, defence goods etc. – so that we can compete in the comity of nations. A national technology policy directed at achievement of national self-reliance needs to be formulated and implemented so that we become a major global exporter of high-tech products.


3. Prompt Access to Justice: We must punish the corrupt and those responsible for terrorism. The normal legal system has failed in this respect, because of the life threats to judges and witnesses by the powerful, the corrupt and terrorists. This has to be initially done under independent military courts until cleanup is achieved and a proper functional police force is established. Those who have amassed vast amounts of national wealth in foreign lands must be forced to return it to the nation and spend the rest of their lives in jails. A major overhaul of the justice system would be needed, including a mandatory requirement that court decisions are made within three months by strengthening the courts. This will need to be accompanied by genuine land reforms and abolition of the patwari system through computerisation of land records, our courts are choked by land disputes.


The decision is ours to make as a nation. We have the natural and human resources and creative, hardworking people. The dream of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the father of our nation, can become a reality if we are courageous and set a new path for ourselves through the above reforms.


The writer is former federal minister for science and technology, former chairman of the Higher Education Commission. Email: ibne_sina@


HEC --- Why India Felt Threatened!

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, FRS, NI, HI ,SI, TI

On 23rd July 2006, an article was published in the leading daily Indian newspaper Hindustan Times, entitled "Pak Threat to Indian Science". It was reported that Prof. C.N.R. Rao (Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council) had made a detailed presentation to the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh about the rapid strides that Pakistan was making in the higher education sector after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in October 2002 and my appointment as its first Chairman. The article began with the sentence “"Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.” Serious apprehensions were expressed before the Indian Prime Minister at the rapid progress being made by Pakistan in the higher education and science sectors first under the Ministry of Science & Technology after my appointment as the Federal Minister of Science & Technology of Pakistan in the year 2000, and later under the Higher Education Commission. It was stressed during the presentation to the Indian Prime Minister that if India did not take urgent measures to upgrade its own higher education sector, Pakistan would soon take the lead in key areas of higher education, science & technology, (, Neha Mehta, "Pak Threat to Indian Science", Hindustan Times, 23 July 2006).

Something remarkable happened in Pakistan during the short period between 2000 to 2008 that rang alarm bells in India. It also drew unmitigated praise from neutral international experts. Three independent and authoritative reports, praising the outstanding performance of HEC, were published by the World Bank, USAID and the British Council. Pakistan won several international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought about under the leadership of the author. The Austrian Government conferred its high civil award "Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande" (2007) on the author for transforming the Higher Education sector in Pakistan. The TWAS (Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Italy) Award for Institutional Development was conferred on the author at the 11th General Conference of TWAS in October 2009.

Prof. Michael Rode, the Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development and presently heading a Network of European and Asian Universities (ASIA-UNINET) wrote:“The progress made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects. ---- The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that (the) policy and programme is a `best-practice’ example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.” Unquote. (

Prof. Wolfgang Voelter of Tubingen University, who had been conferred two Civil Awards from the Government of Pakistan for his contributions to the development of science in this country, paid glowing tributes in an article in Dawn on 28th November 2008 under the heading “The Golden Period” in the following words: “ A miracle happened. The scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan changed dramatically as never before in the history of Pakistan. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced it as "Pakistan's golden period in higher education.” Unquote. (

A senior US educational expert Prof. Fred Hayward independently analysed this sector on behalf of USAID and wrote: “The Higher Education Commission instituted major upgrades for laboratories and information and communications technology, rehabilitation of facilities, expansion of research support, and development of one of the best digital libraries in the region. --- Its successes have been remarkable --- Quality had increased significantly, and several institutions were on their way to becoming world-class institutions. About 95 percent of people sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities” Unquote. (Number 54, winter 2009, Source: International Higher Education Quarterly),(

  1. The tremendous changes that occurred in Pakistan after the year 2003 as compared to the previous 55 years (1947-2002) are illustrated by the following statistics:

  1. There were only 59 universities and degree awarding institutes in Pakistan in the year 2001. These grew to 127 such institutions by 2008.

  2. University enrolment grew three-fold, rising from only 276,000 in 2002 to a remarkable 803,000 by 2010.

  3. During the 55 year period between 1947 to 2002, only 1500 PhD scholarships had been awarded by UGC. During 2003 to 2010, over 8,000 such scholarships were awarded by HEC through a highly competitive selection process, about 5,000 of these to top universities in USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

  4. The PhD output from our universities during the fifty five year period 1947-2002 was only 3,321 (an average of only 60 per year). In the subsequent eight year period, 2003-2010, another 3,651 PhD degrees were granted (an average of 450 per year) after international assessment by eminent experts from technologically advanced countries. Presently it stands at about 700 per year, representing a 1,200% increase as compared to the average in the earlier 55 year period.

  5. The rapid progress made by Pakistan in the IT and telecom sector during 2000-2002 under my charge as Federal Minister led to the spread of internet from 29 cities in the year 2000 to 1000 cities, towns and villages by 2002, and the spread of fiber from 40 cities to 400 cities in this 2 year period. The internet prices were reduced sharply from $ 87,000 per month for a 2 MB line to only $ 3000 per month. The mobile telephony boom began by the drastic lowering of prices, bringing in of competition (Ufone) and changing the system so that the person receiving a call was no longer required to pay any charges. A satellite was placed in space (Paksat 1) at a cost of only $ 4 million. These changes in the IT infra-structure brought about during the time I was the Federal Minister of Science responsible for IT and Telecom later proved invaluable for the Higher education sector. Pakistan Educational Research Network was set up in 2004 through which one of the finest digital libraries was established in universities. In 2002, few university libraries could subscribe to a handful of journals. Today every student in every public sector university has free access to over 20,000 international journals with back volumes and over 60,000 books from 250 international publishers. A silent revolution had occurred.

  6. During 1947 to 2002, not a single university could be ranked among the top 600 of the world in international university rankings. By 2008, however several Pakistani universities achieved this yardstick, with NUST (Islamabad) at 273 in the world, UET (Lahore) at 281 in the world and Karachi University (in natural sciences) at 223 in the world. Others included Quaid-e-Azam University (Islamabad) and Mehran Engineering University (Hyderabad).

Pakistan was poised to make major breakthrough in transitioning from a low value added agricultural economy to a knowledge economy. Alas corrupt politicians with forged degrees plotted to destroy this wonderful institution where all decisions were merit-based, a trait unacceptable to many in power. A Government notification was issued on 30th November 2010 to fragment HEC and distribute the pieces. At this point I intervened. It was on my appeal to the Supreme Court that the Supreme Court declared the fragmentation of HEC to be unconstitutional. The development budget of HEC has however been slashed by 50% and most development programs in universities have come to a grinding halt.

The Indian government need not have worried. We Pakistanis, alas, know how to destroy our own institutions.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The author is the former Federal Minister for Science & Technology and former Chairman of Higher Education Commission.


Pakistan: The Four Pillars for Progress

Atta-ur-Rahman, FRS, NI, HI, SI, TI

Knowledge is now the single most important factor for socio-economic development. Countries that have realized this and invested heavily in developing their human resources to the highest possible levels have leaped forward, leaving others far behind. Finland has a population about one-fourth of that of Karachi but just one company from this country has exports double that of the whole of Pakistan. Malaysia decided 30 years ago to spend at least 30% of its budget on education, which it has been doing for the last 30 years, giving other sectors a much lower priority. The result is that Malaysia today accounts for 86.5% of the total high tech exports of the Islamic world, and is ranked ninth in the world in this category, ahead of many European nations. Korea decided to give the very highest priority to higher education. In 1960, about 5% of the youth in Korea between ages of 17-23 were enrolled in higher education institutions (about the same as of Pakistan today) and Korean exports were only about $ 30 billion in the 60s. By 2010, the enrolment of Korean youth in higher education institutions jumped to about 95%, the highest in the world. The result was a corresponding jump in its exports of high value products (electronics, engineering goods, automobiles, house hold appliances, steel, ship building etc) which have risen to $ 360 billion.

The four pillars of progress are (1) High Quality Education, (2) Science & Technology (3) Innovation and Entrepreneurship and (4) A Governance System that allows merit to prevail and offers quick and fair justice.

(1) Education: Pakistan spends only about 1.8 % of its GDP on education (as opposed to Malaysia’s 30% of budget). For a nuclear state like Pakistan it is a shameful reality that we are ranked among the bottom 7 countries of the world, standing at 126 among 132 countries ( This has been largely due to the strangle-hold of the feudal system on our parliament which has given the lowest priority to education. It is not in the interests of the feudal landlords and rulers to allow an educated society to emerge that will challenge their lordly feudal life styles in which millions of peasants and farmers are exploited and held in virtual slavery. Pakistan did make spectacular progress in higher education after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in 2002. For the first time in its history, several of its universities were ranked in the top 600 of the world with NUST at a respectable 273 and UET (Lahore) at 281. However this progress came to a grinding halt after 2008, when the budget of HEC was slashed by 50% and over 90% of the projects frozen. In November 2010 the government issued a notification to shred HEC into pieces. HEC had found that 53 of our Parliamentarians had forged degrees while another 250 had degrees that were suspect. It was only on my Appeal to the Supreme Court that this national disaster was averted. The Supreme Court declared the Government notification to shred HEC into pieces unconstitutional and restored its status.

Primary, secondary and technical education remains in a complete mess, with no hope in sight. Ghost schools, where teachers salaries are paid to servants of the feudal landlords, and illiteracy prevails. True literacy stands at about 25%. In an illiterate nation such as ours, and the only one in the world where the feudal system prevails, democracy is just a farce. Poverty grows and engulfs most of the country, creating ideal grounds for terrorism to grow. Mass migration of talent and businesses abroad has further compounded the situation. USA and its allies have been spending $200 billion annually in their war effort but if they had invested a quarter of this amount in education, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism could have been tackled at its grass roots.

(2) Science & Technology: The collapse of the science & Technology institutions in Pakistan is reflected from the fact that the development budget of the Ministry of Science & Technology in 2002, when I was the Federal Minister of Science & Technology, was Rs. 6 billion, but it had fallen to below Rs. 1 billion last year. A country weak in science is forever paralytically dependent on all its needs of technology on others.

Engineering represents the backbone of defense and industry. A wonderful scheme was approved by ECNEC in February 2008 to set up foreign engineering universities in Pakistan with integrated technology parks where foreign companies such as Siemens or Eriksson could set up Research and Development Centres for new product development. Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Austria and Korea had all agreed to set up their engineering universities in various cities of Pakistan, in which degrees would have been offered by top foreign universities without our students going abroad. This could have saved Pakistan about Rs. 100 billion annually which is what our parents spend today to provide high quality foreign education to their children abroad. However the scheme was abandoned in May 2008, as the government had “other priorities than education”--- a monumental national disaster!

(3) Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Unless laboratory level research is translated into marketable products, a knowledge economy cannot be promoted. A number of steps must be taken to make this happen. Firstly Pakistan must have a clear Science, Technology and Innovation policy at the national level. The national technology policy should ensure that no development project is approved on a turn-key basis, and genuine transfer of technology must be an integral part of all development projects. Secondly a country must have a strong Intellectual Property Rights regime that must be vigorously enforced and implemented. Thirdly there should be liberal access to Venture Capital funding to support and foster new start-up companies based on innovative ideas. Fourthly, private sector R & D should be promoted through a dynamic incentivisation process. Lastly, there must be a clear national road map for transitioning from our low value-added economy to a knowledge economy. Such a road map was prepared under my leadership, (a 300 page document entitled “Technology Based Industrial Visio, Strategy and Action Plan for Socio-economic Development”) and approved by the Cabinet in August 2007. It clearly lays out the projects that must be undertaken in various sectors such as agriculture, electronics, engineering, information technology, biotechnology, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles etc. An inter-Ministerial committee was formed for its implementation but it lies gathering dust.

(4) Governance: The migration from our low value added economy to a powerful knowledge economy just cannot occur unless we have a powerful government of visionary technocrats. The Cabinets of China and Korea comprise the most eminent scientists and engineers in the country. Korea has given the status of Deputy Prime Minister to its Minister of Higher Education, Science & Technology. The present British Parliamentary system of democracy has failed over and over again. We need to free institutions such as NAB, FIA, Police, PIA, Railways, Steel Mills, FBR etc from the control of the government. They should have their own completely autonomous status and independent merit- based appointment system of the Heads.

Without a visionary, honest and technologically competent government that ensures justice and merit, Pakistan cannot progress.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The author is the former Federal Minister for Science & Technology and former Chairman of Higher Education Commission.


Importance of Engineering Education in National Development

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, FRS

Engineering represents the single most important sector vital for national development. Expertise in engineering lies at the heart of all national development strategies as it determines the level of industrial growth as well as self-reliance in defense manufacture. The steel industry, special alloys, engineering goods, manufacture of industrial machinery, automobile manufacture, electronic, household appliances, robotics and computer science, textiles, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, industrial design---indeed every sector of the national economy depends on engineering. It is directly connected with high tech exports, and the ability of nations to transition from low value added agricultural economies to “knowledge economies”.

The emphasis on human resource development, with a special emphasis on engineering, has resulted in the growth of a strong middle class in India that today accounts for about 32% of its population, which is increasing by about 1% each year. In Pakistan our neglect of education over the decades has meant a much smaller middle class, only about 12% of our population, which is shrinking due to increasing inflation, growing poverty, mounting debt that has doubled in the last 3 years and rampant corruption.
Jawahar Lal Nehru, realizing the critically important role of science and technology, and particularly of engineering in socio-economic development, decided to give maximum emphasis to these areas in India’s national development plans. India collaborated with various technologically advanced countries to help establish world class engineering institutions, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in different cities of India. The first Indian Institute of Technology was established in Kharagpur, in 1950. Subsequently six additional IITs materialized:  IIT Bombay with assistance from UNESCO and Soviet Union in 1958, IIT Madras with assistance from West Germany in 1959, IIT Kanpur with assistance from USA in 1959, IIT Delhi  in 1961, IIT Guwahati in 1994 and IIT Roorkee in 2001.
The extremely poor state of our engineering universities in Pakistan in the year 2000 is reflected from the appalling fact that in the 53 years between 1947 to 2000 all our nine engineering universities had together produced only about 10 PhDs in all! In comparison IIT Delhi produces over 170 PhDs each year while Tsing Hua university in Beijing produces over a thousand PhDs annually. This is truly shameful for Pakistan, a country claiming to be a nuclear state. Indeed in 2003 we did not have a single genuine engineering university. They were, at best, low level colleges labeling themselves as universities.
Realising the importance of engineering education and research when I was Federal Minister of Science & Technology during 2000-2002, we created significant endowments of Rs. 100-200 million for every engineering university to promote research. The key to a high quality university is faculty. Good universities are not developed by building beautiful buildings but by training and attracting highly creative and eminent faculty members. As the founding Chairman of the Higher Education Commission I therefore decided to lay the maximum emphasis on high quality faculty development. Some 11,000 scholarships were awarded, about 5,000 of them to send our brightest students to top universities in USA, Europe, Australia and China. Almost 2,500 of these were in engineering sciences, including IT and computer sciences. The availability of liberal research grants and other such measures resulted in a spectacular increase in international research publications from only 500 per year in the year 2000 to about 4600 per year by 2010, about a 900% growth. Pakistan was producing only 200 PhDs annually in 2002, but this increased to 700 PhDs per year by 2010.When we consider that India today produces about 9,000 PhDs annually, we had reached about 60% of the Indian output on a population comparison basis and were catching up fast. The PhD output of our engineering universities also grew from a total of 10 PhDs in 55 years (an average of 0.2 PhDs per year between 1947- 2002) to an average of about 14 per year by 2010, a 150 fold growth. By the year 2009, two of our engineering universities were ranked among the top 300 of the world (NUST and UET Lahore). While this represents a promising beginning, our international standing is still dismally low. All our 9 engineering universities have together produced only 131 PhDs in the last 7 years (an average of about 2 PhDs per year per university), a 70 fold lower productivity than what IIT Delhi produces in a single year (173 PhDs were awarded recently at the 42nd annual convocation of IIT, Delhi).
The rapid advances being made in Pakistan during 2003-2008 under the Higher Education Commission resulted in alarm bells to ring in India. A detailed presentation was made by Prof. C.N.R. Rao (adviser to the Indian government on Science & Technology) to the Indian Prime Minister about the rapid progress being made in Pakistan in the higher education sector (article by Neha Mehta “Pak Threat to Indian Science”, This resulted in far reaching decisions by the Indian government to accelerate the development of its higher education institutions. Over the next 5 years India will establish 29 new universities and 40 new high level institutes. Nine additional IITs will be established so that India will have 16 world class IITs providing state-of-the-art engineering education. In international rankings of engineering universities, IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi are already ranked at 47 and 52, respectively in the world while IIT Kanpur, IIT Madras and IIT Kharagpur are also ranked in the top 100.
In 2005 we embarked on an a visionary project that I conceived to establish several world class engineering universities in collaboration with Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, China and Korea that would provide world-class engineering education in Pakistan with degrees being awarded by top foreign universities. Each university was to be established in collaboration with a consortium of top foreign universities. Thus 9 top German engineering universities formed a consortium of 9 top German universities to establish the Pak-German university in Lahore. Similar consortia were formed with the other countries to establish universities in Karachi, Islamabad, Sialkot, and later when the security situation improved, in Peshawer and Quetta. An attractive feature of each university was an integrated technology park in which foreign companies such as Siemens and Eriksson had agreed to establish their Research & Development Centres. This would have led to a surge in international patents of new products and processes and a huge increase in high tech exports. Pakistani parents spend about Rs. 100 billion each year on sending their children to foreign universities. Besides saving this expenditure, the scheme would have led to significant earnings of foreign exchange due to many foreign students coming to Pakistan for study.
The development schemes to establish these foreign engineering universities were approved by ECNEC in February 2008, and classes were scheduled to begin in October 2008. Unfortunately disaster struck. HEC budget was slashed in 2008, scholarships frozen and most development projects, including the establishment of the foreign engineering universities in Pakistan, halted. A wonderful and unique opportunity to provide high quality engineering education from top foreign universities within Pakistan and to make rapid advances in industry and defense was thrown away. I resigned in protest in October 2008, although under my contract I had another 2 years left as Chairman HEC.
Things did not stop there. A notification was issued by the Government on 30th November 2010 shredding HEC into pieces. HEC was almost destroyed. Fortunately the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted my Appeal and declared the government notification unconstitutional. HEC has fortunately survived this onslaught. It continues to exist and limp along under difficult financial circumstances in a hostile environment.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The author is the former Federal Minister for Science & Technology and former Chairman of Higher Education Commission.


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