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Magic water

August 05, 2012

TALK-SHOW hosts feted it. Politicians rode in it. Cabinet ministers discussed it. Well-known scientists backed it. Those of a particularly conspiratorial bent called for him to be provided security against a threatened oil industry. While a lone voice calling foul was barely given a chance to be heard, Agha Waqar Ahmad and his ‘water car’ were being hailed as the invention that would free the world from the tyranny of fossil-fuel dependence and transform Pakistan’s image around the globe. As was bound to happen eventually, his scientifically impossible claim, which defies the basic laws of physics, is now being exposed as gobsmacked scientists begin to write and speak about it. A technical examination of the water kit, planned at the highest levels of government, has been delayed indefinitely. Perhaps the best proof has come from the man’s own bumbling attempts to defend his device.

What won’t change as quickly are the unfortunate truths this episode has exposed about Pakistani society. For one, it highlighted again how easily the media here buys into seemingly exciting, but always improbable, news stories without any background research or inquiries. Also left looking more ridiculous than Mr Ahmad are the politicians, ministers and especially scientists who jumped on the bandwagon and hailed the car as a giant leap for Pakistan, showcasing in the process the national love of shortcuts and easy glory and the lack of quality education that makes even our leading public figures susceptible to such bogus claims. Meanwhile, no real work, scientific, managerial, technical or otherwise, is being done to actually address the energy crisis. And the fact that at the same time the breakthrough science of an actual national hero — the Nobel-prize-winning Dr Abdus Salam — is being erased from our official history is a telling comment on Pakistan’s commitment to knowledge.