KARACHI: “If East and West Germany can unite and if China and India can learn to collaborate, why can’t Pakistan and India overcome their differences?” asked Dr Gautam Radhakrishna Desiraju at a three-day conference that opened on Monday at Karachi University.
“Scientists of India and Pakistan can actually set an agenda and break the ice by taking small collaborative initiatives in scientific research,” said the eminent Indian chemist who has played a key role in the development of crystal engineering and who is currently the president of the International Union of Crystallography (IUC).
He was invited to address the inaugural session of the IYCr (International Year of Crystallography) South Asia Summit Meeting on Vistas in Structural Chemistry which has been organised at KU International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS).
The programme is jointly organised by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (Comsats).
The event is the first of the three conferences being organised this year in different parts of the world to mark the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr). Pakistan that has recently applied for the membership of the IUC has hosted such a conference for the first time. Delegates from 19 countries are participating in the event.
Dr Desiraju said that people of both countries faced similar problems and could gain a lot from each other.
To explain his point further, he showed a picture depicting destruction in the Poland’s chief city of Warsaw. Once a great cultural city that had 1.5m inhabitants way back in 1939, Warsaw was completely ruined by Germany and reduced to have a population of only 1,000 people in the events of World War II. Then, there was another picture taken two weeks ago in western Poland where people attended an event organised by the crystallography societies of Germany and Poland. “This is the beauty of science. It helps you rise above your differences and bring nations closer,” he said.
Giving example of India-China relations, he said the two countries had many differences but many of them had faded away with time and this was evident from their bilateral collaboration in different fields. “We have learned that it doesn’t match the status of countries having cities like Bangalore and Gaungzhou (historically known as Canton is the third largest Chinese city located on the Pearl River) to indulge in squabbles,” he said.
Regarding Pakistan’s membership to the IUC that would be considered later this year, Dr Desiraju said that it was due for a long time. India, according to him, became a member of the forum in 1951 while China and Bangladesh joined it in the 1980s. He asked Pakistani scientists to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and get some modern machines without which he said one couldn’t research in crystallography. “If a small country such as Slovenia can make progress in crystallography and set up its own society in this field, why can’t Pakistan?” he remarked.
Another important subject he touched upon was taking quality education to remote areas. “This has already happened in China and it is currently happening in India and I hope that it happens in Pakistan, too. Our country is now producing students belonging to distant areas who are able to clear top exams,” he informed the audience.
He urged students listening to his speech in the auditorium to move ahead and start afresh. “Don’t carry the baggage of the past. Start things anew. Talk and communicate with us. There are many areas where we can work together.”
Earlier, the speakers highlighted the significance of crystallography (the science that examines the arrangements of atoms in solids) and said that it was the backbone of many sciences. The year 2014, they said, was a historic occasion for scientists celebrating 100 years since the birth of X-ray crystallography. Research in biological crystallography had led to the discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in 1953 and then the first protein structure in 1958.
“The main objective of this meeting is to provide a platform to scientists from the regional countries to share their findings with science administrators and industry representatives in order to develop a greater understanding about the tremendous benefits of structural chemistry,” said former chairman of the Higher Education Commission Dr Atta-ur-Rahman.
Giving his remarks, ICCBS Director Dr Mohammad Iqbal Chaudhry said it was an honour for Pakistan to host such a prestigious moot. The government, he said, needed to make investment in education and research.
HEC chief Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, KU Vice Chancellor Prof Mohammad Qaiser, Dean of the Faculty of Science Prof Syed Abid Azhar, Editor-in-Chief of IUCr Journal Prof Samar Hasnain and Comsats Executive Director Dr Imtinan Elahi Qureshi also spoke.