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  • Pakistan puts science back on its development agenda

[ISLAMABAD] In a major policy shift, Pakistan's government has declared science and innovation as a "central pillar of socio-economic development", and has promised to increase research spending from 0.59 to two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020.

Pakistan's 'Science, Technology and Innovation Policy' — more than three years in the making — outlines a ten-year roadmap for developing science and technology (S&T) and recognises innovation as a central part of the country's S&T system.

The policy was presented to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani last week (20 September), whose personal support may help to fast-track it through the legislative process. But it still has to go through the Ministry of Law and the Cabinet, before being passed by the Parliament in a formal vote.

Science minister Changez Khan Jamali told SciDev.Net: "We have tried to embed our S&T vision into our socio-economic development goals. We aim to improve the quality of life of common people through science, technology and innovation."

The policy highlights areas that need improving, such as demand-driven research; coordination among S&T establishments; links between research and industry; human resources; and national and international partnerships.

It also seeks to address "gaps" that have hampered the growth of science and innovation in the country, such as the need for an intellectual property rights regime and the establishment of a public–private innovation fund to boost industrial productivity.

The policy proposes the re-establishment of the National Commission on Biotechnology (NCB) — which was abolished by the present government in 2008 — to better coordinate research by country's 26 biotechnology and genetic engineering institutions.

But some critics are sceptical about the availability of funds to implement the roadmap.

Pakistani science has recently faced heavy financial cuts, because of recession and floods, which has forced the closure of many government-funded programmes. This year, Pakistan's government reduced funds for the Ministry of Science and Technology by US$5.8 million.

Former science minister Atta-ur-Rahman — who was largely responsible for a major increase in science funding from 2000 to 2008, and who later resigned over a funding row — told SciDev.Net: "The new science policy sounds nice to [one's] ears and a good thing about it is the set of actions given in each sphere of activity.

"But what casts doubts over its success is the previous track record of the present political regime. There should have been a clearly defined funding mechanism [in the policy]," he said.

The former chair of the NCB, Anwar Nasim, told SciDev.Net: "We cannot understand how [the government] will manage funding for new initiatives in this policy while the financial circumstances in the country are the same as in previous years. Where will the money come from?"

But Imtinan Elahi Qureshi, executive director of Islamabad-based Commission for Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) said there was political will at the highest level to make S&T a central pillar of national development strategy.

"A good thing about this policy is that it has been developed with the consensus of all stakeholders and it will put in place a legal framework for ensuring continuity and allocation of required funds," Qureshi told SciDev.Net.