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1000 mile Journey :Prof.Atta-ur=Rehman

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    1000 mile Journey :Prof.Atta-ur=Rehman


    A 1000-mile journey


    By Prof Atta-ur-Rahman


    The 57 member-countries of the OIC possess tremendous potential for
    development. Yet they have unfortunately lagged behind in almost every
    field and the gap is rapidly widening. This is so in spite of the fact
    that
    they are blessed with about a quarter of the world's population, about a
    quarter of the world's natural resources and about 70 per cent of the
    world's oil reserves. In spite of all these resources the total GDP of
    the
    Islamic world comes to only about US$1,200 billion which is shocking
    when we compare it with the GDP of some of the advanced countries
    such as Germany (US$2,500 billion) and Japan (US$5,500 billion).


    The question which we must ask ourselves is: why is it that in spite of
    the vast resources at their disposal, the Islamic states have a total
    GDP
    which is less than a quarter of that of Japan which has virtually no
    natural resources? The
    reason is simple. We have not realized that the true wealth of a country
    is its people. It is
    the quality of education with which a people are blessed and the ability
    of the respective
    countries to use their educated masses for development which determines
    which side of
    the "digital divide" they are located.


    When we look at the entire Islamic world there are less than 400
    universities in all the 57 Islamic countries taken together most of
    which are sub-standard and in reality are low level colleges. This
    compares very unfavourably with Japan which has more than 120
    universities in the city of Tokyo alone. Indeed there are over 1,000
    universities in Japan! It is most meaningful that Japan has put all its
    resources in one basket - human resource development. The result is
    a massive production of highly qualified technical manpower which
    has launched Japan far ahead of any of the Western European
    countries, approaching USA in its GDP.The economy of the US has
    similarly been driven by such universities as MIT and Stanford.
    Scientists working at the cutting edge of technology constantly come
    forward with a stream
    of new ideas and the US system is geared, through an efficient patenting
    system and large
    number of venture capital and angel investors, to pick these ideas up
    and transform them
    into marketable products. This is showering vast riches on that country.
    The industrial
    sector is thus being rapidly driven forward by massive R&D efforts.


    Over 65 per cent of all PhDs in the US work under the umbrella of
    industry whereas in the
    developing world less than three per cent of our PhD level manpower
    works in industry.
    Some developing countries such as China are following the same path and
    have begun to
    march ahead of others. Thus I had the opportunity of visiting a factory
    in the city of Shenzen
    (near Hong Kong) recently and was stunned to discover that it had a
    turnover of $30 billion,
    which is more than Pakistan's ADP. Strikingly there were only 1,000
    workers in the
    production sector but over 4,000 scientists and engineers in the
    research and development
    section of that factory!


    It is, therefore, no secret as to what is required to be done. We have
    to build up our human
    resources and take measures to keep them within the country by providing
    them a
    stimulating environment and giving them competitive salaries. There can
    be no worse
    tragedy for a country than for its brightest manpower to migrate abroad.
    This huge loss has
    been happening in our country for the last so many years.


    And it does not take millions to transform a country - all Pakistan
    needs to be transformed
    into a developed nation is some 20,000-50,000 high quality PhDs in
    selected scientific
    and engineering disciplines working in world class environments on
    meaningful and
    goal-oriented national projects of industrial and agricultural
    significance, to transform the
    results of their efforts into economically meaningful programmes.


    PCSIR which is the prime scientific research organization in Pakistan
    had about 170 PhD
    scientists about 15 years ago. Now their number has diminished to less
    than 65! This is
    absolutely unforgivable and symbolizes the criminal negligence of this
    vitally important
    sector and the choking to death of the largest scientific institution in
    Pakistan. The blame
    can be firmly put on who felt that science and technology was redundant
    to the nation's
    development policies and failed to allocate appropriate resources.


    Similarly there has been serious depletion of PhD level manpower in our
    universities which
    have almost collapsed. The budgets of the universities in Pakistan have
    continued to
    decline in real terms by about 30 per cent annually because of the
    devaluation of the
    Pakistani rupee and because of inflation. As a result our university
    budgets are on average
    a quarter of those in Bangladesh and one-sixth of those in India.


    When I took over charge as minister of science and technology I set
    myself the huge task of
    rebuilding the S&T infrastructure in the country. The four thousand per
    cent increase in the
    science and technology budget by the government this year shows that for
    the first time in
    the history of the country there is a government which is willing to
    commit substantial funds
    to science and technology instead of relying on hollow slogans. As the
    universities do not
    form part of my ministry it was difficult to divert funds directly to
    universities. However I took
    a holistic view of the situation since I could not conceive of the
    development of science and
    technology in Pakistan without corresponding improvements in the dismal
    situation
    prevailing in the universities of our country.


    The development budget of the ministry of science and technology during
    the last financial
    year under the previous government was only about Rs120 million -
    shocking beyond
    words - a nuclear state with such a pathetically small S&T budget. This
    year the financial
    commitment has been raised to over Rs5 billion with a good chance of it
    being elevated
    further. As a result, a large number of important new initiatives have
    been undertaken.


    One of these relates to the upgrading of the PhD level research in the
    universities in
    Pakistan which produces only about 50-60 PhDs in the sciences each year.
    Our new
    programme would produce 300 additional PhDs in key scientific
    disciplines. Grants will be
    given to each research supervisor of Rs500,000 per student per year for
    the purchase of
    equipment, chemicals, consumables, etc and for provision of scholarships
    to each PhD
    student. Thus a PhD supervisor having four students enrolled for PhD
    under him would be
    able to benefit by a grant of Rs800,000 over a four-year period to
    support his/her PhD
    programmes. This will also help to provide the much needed
    infrastructural support to
    individual science departments as equipment bought under such programmes
    would also
    later be available to other scientists. A sum of Rs600 million will be
    spent over the next four
    years towards this programme. This would substantially strengthen our
    science base and
    go a long way in strengthening the quality of scientific research in our
    universities.


    Under another programme teachers/researchers are being sent abroad for
    PhD level
    training in those critically important areas where such facilities do
    not exist in the country.
    These initiatives to train manpower in our universities and research
    centres, will address
    the crisis of rapidly depleting PhD level manpower in these
    institutions. A system of "starter
    grants" will provide them with immediate access to research funds on
    their return so that
    they do not face the frustration of returning to ill-equipped
    laboratories when they come
    back to Pakistan on completion of their studies.


    A very interesting initiative which should have a far-reaching impact on
    the economic
    development of Pakistan is a programme entitled Science and Technology
    for Economic
    Development (STED). Joint projects are being initiated between research
    institutions and
    industries for technology-based production of high value-added goods.
    This partnership
    between academia and industry represents an exciting new approach to
    achieve a certain
    level of technological development. These are not research projects but
    involve the
    application of existing technologies for agricultural or industrial
    development. Each project
    may have a size of about Rs30 million and will involve the setting up of
    pilot plant
    commercial production units so that the economic viability and
    feasibility of the processes
    concerned can be demonstrated to industrial entrepreneurs.


    It is expected that under this programme many projects will be initiated
    during the next six
    months across the country in several different sectors including
    biotechnology,
    pharmaceuticals, chemicals, information technology, energy, health, etc.
    Units once set up
    can be replicated in other parts of the country and should lead to the
    development of high
    value-added goods for export. The programmes are therefore aimed at
    tackling the basic
    problem facing Pakistan which is that we have a very small GDP of only
    about US$60
    billion. Production in low value-added good sectors such as agriculture,
    textiles, leather,
    etc. is not going to make a significant impact on it. In order to
    increase our GDP we have to
    go into the high value-added technology-based sector. It is only by
    adopting this approach
    that Pakistan can rid itself of the burden of foreign debt.


    About 850 projects have been received as a result of a country wide
    advertisement. Each
    project has an industrial partner and is, therefore, demand driven. It
    is expected that some
    of the projects would be selected after final peer review and then
    implemented across the
    country. These programmes represent a genuine turning point in the
    development of
    science and technology and these should provide a much needed injection
    of funds and
    scientific expertise to our universities. A real beginning has,
    therefore, at last been made
    after 50 years of negligence in this important sector.


    Information technology offers a tremendous opportunity for Pakistan and
    it has been
    selected as a priority area by the present government. Pakistan did not
    have an IT policy or
    any IT action plan when I took charge. In April 2000 the first meeting
    of about 250 IT
    professionals was called by me in Islamabad and they were asked to
    prepare a blueprint of
    the IT policy. Within four weeks the policy was in place. The monumental
    effort was
    coordinated by Salman Ansari, an eminent telecommunication expert and a
    true patriot.


    The policy subsequently went through 20 different revisions and the IT
    policy and IT action
    plan were approved by the cabinet within three months of the initiative
    being started. No
    government money was spent in preparing the policy or plan. It
    represented a huge effort
    and I was greatly moved at the tremendous support that I received from
    those involved who
    worked day and night without any compensation, driven by national
    patriotism. The
    government's role was seen in the policy as that of an enabler and
    facilitator, with its
    investment being largely in education and training as well as to remove
    the bureaucratic
    hurdles so that the private sector could play its role effectively in
    this effort.


    The IT division presently comprises only five persons including myself
    and my secretary -
    and all the excitement that we have been able to generate in this sector
    in the last several
    months illustrates what can be done by a small group of persons with
    public support. The
    policy and plan have been very well received both within the country and
    abroad. We have
    established overseas advisory groups comprising eminent expatriate
    Pakistani IT
    professionals settled in the USA/Europe. One overseas strategic advisory
    board in the
    field of information technology was established in San Francisco under
    the chairmanship of
    Masood Jabbar, President, Sun Microcomputers. Another group 'Dareecha'
    was
    established in New York. These IT professionals have been advising us on
    the way
    forward.


    The major challenge that Pakistan faces today is to develop the
    requisite quality and
    number of skilled IT professionals in this important field. We have,
    therefore, earmarked
    about 60 per cent of the funds allocated to us in the field of
    information technology to
    human resource development. Seven IT universities are in the process of
    being
    established during the current financial year, two in the private sector
    and five in the public
    sector. Two of these, COMSATS and FAST, have already been granted
    charters and thus
    gained a degree awarding status while others are in the process of being
    set up.


    An exciting project which should have far-reaching implications is that
    of a virtual university
    involving distance learning. This university will be set up within the
    next few months and the
    programmes of the university will be implemented through both television
    and internet for
    training people in the field of information technology. Training
    programmes have been
    initiated simultaneously and should produce 25000 trained personnel
    within the next 12
    months. We are strengthening computer science departments in our
    universities by
    providing them with faculty and manpower. Efforts are also being
    undertaken to procure
    faculty from abroad so that our IT institutions can be
    strengthened.Steps are also under
    way to improve the basic infrastructure involved in Information
    Technology. One key issue
    which needs to be addressed is that of affordable universal internet
    access. The cost of
    bandwidth prevailing in Pakistan about 18 months ago was over US$70,000
    per megabyte
    per month. This has been brought down to about US$3,000 per megabyte per
    month,
    thereby making Pakistan the most attractive place in the Afro-Asian
    world for investment in
    IT related ventures. These dramatic reductions in the bandwidth costs
    have been possible
    due to bulk bandwidth purchases at much cheaper costs and the use of
    submarine cable
    instead of the more expensive satellite. This has created tremendous
    excitement both at
    home and abroad and it is expected to trigger the rapid growth of IT
    related businesses.


    In August we announced a four-month programme for spread of internet
    across Pakistan -
    and we have already delivered! Within the last three months internet,
    which was confined to
    29 cities in the country till August, has now spread to over 300 towns,
    cities and villages,
    covering over 75 per cent of the population of the country. This is a
    historic and
    unprecedented growth of internet, unmatched by any country of the world
    and it goes to
    show what can be achieved when we act with determination and speed.


    Various revolutionary measures have been taken by the government to
    promote
    Information Technology and these steps have transformed the country into
    a kind of Free
    Export Processing Zone for the IT industry. Thus the government has
    announced 0 per cent
    income tax on software companies for the next five years on export of
    software. The duties
    on computers and computer parts have also been removed. Software
    exporters can retain
    35 per cent of their export earnings in foreign currency accounts.
    Venture Capital
    Companies have been given 7 years tax holiday for investments in the IT
    field. These and
    other measures have made Pakistan the most attractive place for
    investment in the
    Afro-Asian region and has created a tremendous amount of excitement in
    many parts of
    the world which is now beginning to draw significant investments into
    the country.


    Thus a US$30 million project was signed recently with a British company
    to set up a large
    telehousing facility in Pakistan in collaboration with PTCL. This
    project is likely to be
    completed by April 2001 providing cheap rapid internet access to ISPs
    and other
    customers. A US$50 million Venture Capital Fund was launched recently in
    the USA which
    will help our software companies to obtain funding and technology from
    the USA. This fund
    was contributed largely by Pakistani expatriates settled in the US. An
    MoU was signed with
    the World Bank to set up a national portal for e-commerce. Oracle, a
    major US company,
    has decided to invest US$20 million in Sindh province for IT education.
    CISCO has
    decided to set up a network of CISCO Academies in Pakistan. Lockheed
    Martin, one of
    the largest US companies, is in the process of starting major
    initiatives in the country.


    Marketing offices are being established in San Francisco, London, Tokyo
    and Singapore
    to procure business from abroad and also to identify niche opportunities
    which would
    emerge with time. With these measures one can confidently say that
    Pakistan has taken
    the first important step forward in becoming a global player in the
    Information Technology
    field.


    However we have a long way to go. This is only the beginning. A
    sustained and determined
    effort is necessary for us to catch up. It is hoped that subsequent
    governments will build and
    carry forward these important programmes which we have initiated so that
    Pakistan can
    continue to make rapid progress in this vital sector.




    ------------------


    barque(bijli) yoon akadti hai apne karname pe ke
    jaise phir naya hum aashiyaan bana nahi sakte

    #2
    I know its TOO long for the nano sec attention span ppl. & dyxlexics, l.d. bunchs

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