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[ISLAMABAD] Pakistan's science minister Muhammad Azam Khan Swati has criticised his own government's sweeping cuts in science funds, accusing it of short-term vision towards higher education, science and technology.

This year Pakistan allocated 32.3 billion Pakistan rupees (US$377 million) for science and technology, spanning seven ministries, compared with US$590 million last year. The current science allocations form just 1.2 per cent of the country's total US$32.3 billion budget compared with 1.9 per cent last year.

In two statements from his office since parliament approved the proposed 2010–2011 budget cuts in late June, Swati strongly opposed Pakistan's cuts in science funding — down by 36 per cent compared with last year.

"It is high time that the government recognises the importance of the crucial role of science and technology and higher education and takes necessary steps to allocate more funds for these sectors," Swati told SciDev.Net. "Science and technology need more attention to ensure the country's socio-economic development," he added.

Funds for Pakistan's Ministry of Science and Technology have been almost halved, to US$19.2 million, this year compared with US$40.3 million last year.

Of this, US$600,000 has been set aside for 13 new projects, including new centres to make a new vaccine against pneumonia, textile and marine research, and to convert coal gas into diesel. The remaining US$18.6 million will go to 95 ongoing projects.

The Higher Education Commission, which spends 70 per cent of its total budget on scientific research and training, was allocated US$117 million for science — a reduction of over 40 per cent. Some of the commission's funds will go into setting up seven new universities, including one for science and technology, and another for medicine. But commission chairman Javaid Laghari told The News newspaper earlier this month that none of the funds had come in yet, and that they might be diverted to flood relief efforts.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture, which oversees research in food and agriculture, also faces a 36 per cent cut in funds, with US$27 million allocated this year.

Pakistan recently closed three science agencies. Meanwhile, several nanotechnology research laboratories set up by the former high-profile science minister Atta-ur-Rahman in 2003, are now in limbo for lack of funds, according to Noor Muhammad Butt, former chairman of the National Commission on Nanoscience and Technology, who described the ending of nanoscience projects as a "great setback to the progress of nanotechnology in Pakistan".

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