By: Saleem Shaikh and T. V. Padma


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[ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI] Indian and Pakistani scientists are trying to revive informal science ties in an effort to break the stalemate in science collaboration between the two South Asian neighbours.

A delegation of six Indian scientists, led by Krishan Lal, president of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), visited Pakistan this week (17–19 January) on an invitation from Atta-ur-Rahman, president of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS) and former science minister.

The Pakistan academy's executive secretary, Subhan-ud-Din, told SciDev.Net: "The scientists of both countries have agreed to rejuvenate science, research and technology transfer collaboration, to tackle common problems such as agriculture; energy; the environment; food security; health; new crop varieties and water conservation technology".

Other proposals include workshops, seminars, lectures, distance learning programmes, and exchange visits by scientists, university academics and students. "These programmes will be initiated from this year. Indian scientists will deliver lectures that will be listened to by scientists in Pakistan and vice versa," Rahman told SciDev.Net.

"An added advantage is that science and research collaboration at any level will use fewer resources, as the countries are contiguous and are aware of each other's geography, traditions, culture and languages," he said.

At a gathering at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan, Lal called for the two countries to iron out their political differences, and to step up institutional collaboration in science and education, the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune reported yesterday (19 January).

The exact roles of the two governments in their respective academies' decisions is, however, unclear.

Pakistan Science Academy officials claimed that the academy position "can be taken as official" and that they were representing Pakistani government officials at the meeting. They said the country's Ministry of Science and Technology gave the green light to invite the Indian scientists.

But an official at the Science and Technology International Cooperation Division at India's Department of Science and Technology (DST) said that, although they supported INSA with a grant, it was an autonomous think tank with independent activities "that have no connection with the Indian government's point of view".

The two, nuclear-armed neighbours, which have fought three wars since becoming independent in 1947 and came close to a fourth in 1999, currently have no formal bilateral science agreement.

Their scientists have been visiting each other's countries for international or regional conferences and meetings — notably Asian biotechnology conferences — but the visits have been at individual scientific level and have not been part of the official government agenda.

Their only official interaction has been through workshops, and other activities organised by the science and technology committee of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or through the intergovernmental organisation Centre for Science and Technology of the Non-Aligned and Other Developing Countries.