For a Different Democracy (Part 12)


Prof Atta-ur-Rahman,

Today, the quality human resources has assumed much more importance than natural resources. Pakistan with a population of about 220 million, has over 100 million children below the age of 20. This is a huge reservoir of wealth, if only we could unleash the creative potential that lies therein. Unfortunately successive governments have only paid lip service to education, looking for short term gains through investments in vote catching schemes, instead of long term sustainable benefits. The result is that tiny Singapore with no natural resources and with a population about a quarter that of Karachi today has exports of $ 330 billion, while Pakistan has dwindling exports which stagnate around $ 20 billion. Poverty levels have increased in Pakistan over the last decade while the budget deficit has reached critical levels. We borrow more and more as we commit national suicide by drowning the country in an ocean of debt, while corrupt leaders pile billions of dollars in assets abroad. This is a shameful reality, highlighting the urgent need for revolutionary and radical changes as the time for minoring tinkering with the governance system is over.
The primary reason for the failure of Pakistan as a nation has been due to corrupt leadership who appointed cronies as heads of NAB, FIA and the police, thereby paralyzing the justice system and preventing the catching the big crooks and putting them behind bars. The dream of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was transformed to a nightmare and Pakistan became a hot bed of corruption where wolves in sheep’s clothing ruled the land. It is today the land of the “electables”— powerful and ruthless feudal landlords that manipulate the system for their own gains while the poor suffer in growing misery. Yet one cannot deny the resilience and the talent of Pakistani youth, and to emerge from this mess we need to have a government that focuses primarily in tapping into this huge resource.
Pakistan is blessed with vast natural and human resources. We have the 5th largest river system in the world, with a potential of producing 46,000 Megawatts of electricity from hydropower in a very cost effective manner. There are many small waterfalls in the north of Pakistan where small hydel plants can be installed to produce up to 4,500 MW of electricity. Our coal reserves are estimated to be about 186 billion tons. The proven reserves are 579 million tons that are sufficient to last us for 180 years. The Thar coal fields alone can produce 50,000 MW of electricity and 100 million barrels of oil each year for the next 500 years! We can produce more than 100,000 MW of electricity at less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour through solar technologies in our deserts lands in Sind and Punjab as is being now done by UAE. There are many unused gas reserves also. The Tal block near Kohat has gas reserves that are estimated to be as large as the Sui gas reserves. We have large gold/copper ore deposits at Saindak. Our mineral resources include gypsum, limestone, chromites, iron ore, rock salt, silver, precious stones, gems, marbles, and sulfur. With the 5th largest gold mines, 7th largest copper mines and some valuable rare minerals, Pakistan can earn tens of billions of dollars if we develop and export the purified metals and minerals instead of simply exporting the ores at dirt cheap prices due to corrupt and myopic leadership. Pakistan also has tremendous agricultural potential and can enhance its yields of many crops three-fold with farmer education and simple interventions. We are presently among the largest wheat and rice producers in the world.
However, in spite of all this potential, the country has turned into a corrupt banana republic. The change can come again, given an honest and technologically competent leadership. This was demonstrated during the first few years of the Ayub regime and then again the first 3 years of the Musharraf regime. During the period October 1999 to October 2002 there was a small Cabinet of 15 Ministers, including myself. Pakistan recovered from the brink of economic disaster, got rid of IMF loans and achieved a GDP growth rate of up to 8%, the fastest in Asia after China. The IT and Telecom Division was a part of the Ministry of Science & Technology. The explosive growth in the mobile telecommunications sector began because of a decision that I took, on the advice of my able colleague and Adviser Mr. Salman Ansari, to lower the rates of mobile telephone calls, bring in competition (UPhone) and only have subscribers pay for calls made, not calls received. This “Calling Party Pays” regime that was introduced led to an explosive growth in the mobile telephone sector which had been stagnant in 2001 at about 300,000 mobile phones, but has now exceeded 160 million — the hottest sector of our economy. The reason for this change was “selection” of the right persons to head the Ministries and not “election” which has hasresulted in largely corrupt and incompetent Ministers.
Pakistan made a wonderful beginning in 2002 with the formation of the Higher Education Commission to strengthen its universities. The results were “spectacular” as articulated in an article by Prof. Michael Rode, former Chairman of the UN Commission on Science, Technology and Development (UNCSTD) who wrote in 2008 that “In no other country has the higher education sector seen such spectacular positive developments as that in Pakistan during the last six years.” Alas things came to a grinding halt when the previous government tried to destroy the HEC by cutting the budget for higher education, and, at the behest of 200 politicians with forged degrees, issuing orders for its dismantling. Fortunately the Supreme Court came to the rescue on my petition and the organization survived. However some key programs that we had initiated had already been cancelled and could not be retrieved, such as the program of setting up 7 foreign engineering universities and 4 law universities (one in each province).
The good news is that two provincial governments have now decided to revive our programme of establishment of foreign engineering universities in Pakistan. In a visionary initiative of Mr. Imran Khan, the KP government approached me to help establish a good foreign Engineering University in that province. We quickly put together a consortium of the top applied science and technology universities (”Fachhochschule”). The Pak-Austrian engineering university will start functioning in Haripur, Hazara within a year or two, with degrees being given by the Austrian partner universities. A similar program has now been initiated by the Chief Minister of Punjab Mr. Shahbaz Sharif to establish the Pakistan Italian University in the Lahore Knowledge Park. I have again been requested to lead this initiative and the new Italian engineering university should start classes within 18 months if there are no bureaucratic hurdles. The degrees will again be given by the Italian partner universities. These universities will provide the opportunity to our students to acquire good foreign engineering education without going abroad. The centre piece in these universities will be a technology park that will allow strong collaboration of industries in Austria and Italy with industries in Pakistan.

—The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, former Chairman Higher Education Commission and Chairman of UN Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP.