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Today's Paper | May 22, 2024

Published 03 Apr, 2024 07:56am

Focus on science and technology

PAKISTAN has been grappling with escalating challenges across economic, fiscal, social and environmental domains. Key economic indicators have persistently declined, with depleting foreign exchange reserves, consistently negative balance of payments, as well as alarming trade deficits alongside dwindling exports.

Out of many vital revenue-generating entities, industrial sectors face significant challenges that are compounded by widening power outages and uncertain food supply security. High inflation and escalating unemployment further exacerbate the already deteriorating situation, demanding attention to the health and education sectors. Besides, population explosion presents a critical issue requiring immediate action. Structural reforms across these sectors are imperative to achieve the desired outcomes.

Truly, the newly-elected government, tasked with addressing these challenges, must prioritise concrete measures. However, concerns arise regarding the government’s capability and competence, given the presence of familiar faces that were part of past administrations who could not deliver effectively. Public hope for improvement dwindles amidst scepticism about the government’s ability to enact a meaningful change. While securing a broader and long-term agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remains a crucial aspect, addressing other significant economic issues is equally vital.

In this backdrop, a pivotal area that demands immediate attention is the development of science and technology. As such, to bolster global competitiveness across all economic sectors, simultaneous advancements in environmental, technological infrastructure and related sectors are imperative. The government needs to facilitate the commercialisation of selected technologies through effective collaboration between research and development (R&D) and industrial sectors. While acknowledging the significant role of technology and engineering

in facilitating industrialisation, there remains a gap in the national direction.

Moreover, technology and engineering translate scientific knowledge into actionable solutions, catalysing needed economic sector growth. However, the absence of a facilitative environment for their development hinders progress. Pakistan has lacked a comprehensive industrial policy and a robust science and technology policy for nearly two decades, relegating these rather crucial sectors to the sidelines in government planning.

Other than lip-service and high-level planning, these sectors have not received the priority they deserve. For instance, the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST), tasked with promoting scientific as well as techno-logical development, has remained inactive for an extended period.

In today’s rapidly evolving economic landscape, technology not only serves as a crucial driver of growth, but also fosters business transformation and creates new development opportunities. Additionally, its positive impacts include productivity enhancement, market expansion and growth of gross domestic product (GDP). However, Pakistan’s science, technology and innovation ecosystem lags behind compared to peers like Iran and Turkiye. Unfortunately, implementation of the National Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2022 has been limited, primarily due to political instability and lack of political will.

To rectify this situation, the current government needs to start afresh with a clear vision and long-term plan. The sooner it is done, the better it will be.

Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui
Islamabad

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

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