May 28: A day to celebrate


Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan

May 28 not only symbolises our national determination to protect every inch of the territorial and ideological integrity of our beloved country, but it also speaks volumes for the dedication and professional competence of our scientists, engineers and technicians. A country with a dismally low literacy rate and a meager number of research scientists, with even more meager facilities at their disposal, we proved to the world that we could turn the tables – and we did turn the tables. We are not simply the first and only Islamic nuclear power, but also only the 7th world power to do so.
The event, nevertheless, leaves much food for thought. It calls for us to stop for a while and re-assess ourselves – our abilities, our potential and our achievements. The challenge for Pakistan today is to travel the vast distance between its performance and its promise. On the one hand we have all the ingredients to become a most dynamic country; we produce good crops, our country is filled with mineral wealth and we have the manpower. The sparkling waters of our rivers enrich the fertility of our plains and the hardworking peasants, labourers and workers of our nation put in every effort to produce the best. On the other hand, we are one of the poorest countries of the world, the most illiterate, the most malnourished and the least gender-sensitive. We present a bleak picture of human development: nearly 2/3rds of our total adult population and as much as ¾ of the adult females of Pakistan cannot read or write; a high percentage of children born in Pakistan has never been to school; the drop-out rate at primary level is more than half each year; access to basic social services like primary health care and safe drinking water is denied to nearly half of the population; about 50% of the children under 5 are malnourished; about 50% of our people live below the poverty line while another 30% live on the verge of it; 45% Pakistanis live in single-roomed houses, while many do not even have this facility and are even worse off; more than 50% of the population has no notion of sanitation.
There is also an alarming situation in the dismal scientific and educational scenario. Of course we all know that progress can never be attained without educating our masses. We also know that science and technology are the leaders of the future, but still we spend little on human resource development. For example: for every dollar spent in the social sector, 5 are spent on defence and debt servicing; education receives mere crumbs of our annual GNP; our health sector receives almost nothing; scientific research and development does not even receive 1%. If we are not willing to invest in our people, we are doomed. We are outstripped by our neighbour, India, in almost all social indicators. Sri Lanka, with an almost equal per capita income, ranks higher than us on the annual UNDP’s Human Development Index.
Today, markets are the yardstick by which the power, size and influence of nations are judged and in global markets, science and technology rules. No wonder then that Pakistan lags far behind. We produce few people with technical skills and we are often stuck with technologies of the past. Our vocational and technical education programmes are inadequate and qualitatively poor and require sweeping reforms and extensive changes. Years of social and economic neglect from successive governments beg for redress. Let us not forget: research is the bedrock of change; science is the path to prosperity; technology is the key to success. We must equip ourselves with the latest research and development – these are the vanguards of an advanced and powerful society. An all-out effort ought to be made to create and help centres of excellence to engage in active research that could benefit our industry and boost our trade. Public/private partnerships should be promoted in setting up such institutes of higher scientific studies, since one cannot expect the government to do it alone in this demanding world of ours.
Sir Karl Popper, an eminent philosopher who died in London in 1994, said: “next to music and art, science is the greatest, most beautiful and most enlightening achievement of the human spirit.” This demands a serious approach towards putting our S & T house in order. A firm resolve on the part of our government requires the framing of a National Science & Technology Policy, keeping in view local needs and requirements. There is also a growing need for a national S & T Institution to streamline efforts and avoid duplication. Above all, priority should be given to scientists, researchers and engineers while framing policies.
Similarly, we have to restructure our basic and higher educational systems, which currently fail to meet the demands of our time. An all-out effort should be made to acquire the maximum level of literacy on a mass scale and then encouraging research at university level. An anonymous quote of great relevance here says: “The prosperity and strength of a nation is a reflection of the competence of her engineers.” In the words of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute: the race which does not value trained intelligence, is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea, can move back the finger of fate. Today we maintain ourselves, tomorrow science will have moved over yet one more step and there will be no appeal from the judgment which will be pronounced on the uneducated.”
It all comes down to our rulers. In the past they have reneged on their promises. They have never acted on what they said or what they promised during their election campaigns. It almost seems like lying and selfishness has become a state policy and is accepted all round. There needs to be a drastic change in our thinking and corruption, lying and inefficiency should not be accepted as a given by the general public. Recent developments in the cases of Iran and North Korea have proved clearer than ever that promises and agreements made by U.S. Presidents are not sacrosanct. Had Nawaz Sharif taken President Clinton at his word at the time of the decision whether or not to explode our devices, we would most likely now be at the mercy of Mr. Modi!

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