Random thoughts: Fuelled by technology | Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan

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Is it not strange that the very people who excelled in building roads like the impressive GT Road, a massive railway network from Torkham to Karachi to Khokhrapar and barrages and canals in 1947, could not even repair them at the turn of the century?

In fact, in the 1990s, the services of the Koreans were acquired to build new roads and the Chinese were asked to repair the canal systems. This reminds me of another, much-talked-about story of self-delusion. Most of our economists – or those connected with planning – proudly mention that South Korea followed Pakistan’s five-year development plans to become a developed country.

What is sadly forgotten are the reasons why Pakistan remained underdeveloped despite being the author of the very ‘plans’ which led South Korea towards development. Hardly anyone has pondered this question. The best answer has been provided is by Ghulam Kibria in his book Technology Acquisition of Pakistan.

He writes: “The first thing that would come to notice is the fact that, in South Korea, foremost importance was given to literacy and education and that too with Korean language as the medium. Within two decades, the overwhelming majority of the South Koreans were literate, many of them highly educated, and a significant number of them accomplished scientists, engineers and scholars of other disciplines.

“Pakistan remains an illiterate society, even after fifty years, with not many scientists or engineers or other scholars and hardly any of them accomplished. And English, not a local language, was and remains the medium of education. The second thing which would strike the attention is that the liquidation of the feudal system was the first social and economic reform adopted in South Korea (and in India).

“All the land was confiscated and distributed among peasants, with each family receiving two hectares of land. This helped liquidate the feudal culture and lay down the foundation of an industrial culture. This resulted in South Korean rice yields of 6.8 [tonnes] per hectare, exceeding even Japan’s [six tonnes], within two decades. Other agricultural yields also rose accordingly.

“In Pakistan, the feudal system was strengthened, not liquidated. In 1947, Pakistan was exporting wheat and most other agricultural products. Within six years, Pakistan started importing wheat! After fifty years, Pakistan became a net importer of agricultural products. Thirdly, South Koreans were motivated, inspired and urged to save. Within two decades, South Koreans were among the world’s highest savers. It was this saving which was invested for development. Pakistan was a low saver, even in 1947, and its saving rate continued to fall. After fifty years, the Pakistani nation had become one of the lowest savers and highest spenders”.

Technology acquisition and development are not isolated phenomena. They are linked to our overall national thinking and priority setting. No nation can acquire technology without bringing basic changes in its society that are conducive to technology taking a firm root in its culture. Establishing an effective infrastructure is a sine qua non for technological development. It includes easy access to inputs such as skill, investment, scientific research, effective management and convincing marketing. Technology provides the product and services while unhindered input refines them further in terms of quality and reliability. In short, technology can only be acquired if a vibrant industrial culture exists in society. These are the basic issues of economic planning and management areas where we falter the most.

The challenge for Pakistan today is to travel the vast distance between performance and promise. On the one hand, we have all the elements required to become a dynamic nation as we produce good crops, have access to a wealth of minerals, the waters of our rivers enrich the fertility of our plains and labour is available in abundance. On the other hand, we are among the poorest countries of the world and arguably one of the most illiterate, malnourished, corrupt and least gender-sensitive societies.

We present a bleak picture: nearly two-thirds of our adult population and as much as three-fourths of our female population cannot read or write. Access to basic social services like primary healthcare and safe drinking water is denied to nearly half the population and about 50 percent of our children under the age of five are malnourished. Around 37 percent of our boys and 55 percent of our girls have never been to school.

The drop-out rate at the primary level is more than 50 percent. At least 50 percent of our population lives below the poverty line, with many on the verge of it. Around 50 percent of our population live in single-room dwellings while many do not even have a roof over their heads. Nearly 60 percent of our population has no notion of proper sanitation. People in Pakistan face not only a paucity of income, but are also reeling under a paucity of opportunities.

Today, markets are the yardstick by which the power, size and influence of nations are gauged. There is little gainsaying the fact that, in global markets, science and technology rules. While most countries seek the technologies of the future, we are stuck with the technologies of the past.

Vocational and technical education programmes are inadequate, irrelevant, qualitatively poor and require sweeping reforms. However, with an extremely low GNP expenditure on education and even less on science and technology, desirable results cannot be achieved. Today, for every dollar spent in the social sector, more than $5 is being spent on defence and debt-servicing. The importance given to research and development in the advanced world is reflected in its investment.

These are the key issues facing us today. We urgently need to realise that research is the bedrock of change, science is the path to prosperity and technology is the key to success. We must strive to excel in these areas. We must equip ourselves with the weapons of the latest research and development as these are the vanguards of an advanced and powerful society.

An all-out effort is needed to create centres of excellence where active research can be conducted to benefit our industry and boost our trade. Let us strive to raise a whole army of scientists, engineers, technicians and skilled labour so as to equip our industry with technically-sound manpower. With the current political scenario in Pakistan, the future looks bleak. If we take away our nuclear achievements, Pakistan is no better than any other underdeveloped country.

Concluded