Winds of change are now blowing across the landscape of Pakistan. The corrupt are being caught by the forces led by General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, (COAS) and many are trying to escape to safer foreign shores where they have amassed mountains of dollars and pounds.

Karachi is beginning to look like a normal city after the actions taken by the Rangers, and terrorist acts have dwindled in number. A state of panic prevails among the corrupt. Unfortunately, the big fish have so far escaped the net and Pakistan will not embark on the road to economic recovery till they too are caught and given exemplary punishment. Alas the time left for General Raheel Sharif is too short and he must act immediately against them before it is too late. Otherwise it will be all for nothing. All escape routes must be closed and attempts being made to smuggle billions of dollars in boats and private planes to safer havens must be thwarted.

The corrupt big fish have, however, escaped so far from being apprehended. They are counting the days and biding their time till the three-year tenure of General Raheel Sharif comes to an end and another ‘more controllable’ army chief is appointed. That must not be allowed to happen as it will amount to a national disaster. It is not just the politicians who must be caught and punished but also judges and senior personnel of the armed forces who have colluded and connived with dirty politicians. No one must be spared.

For the first time after years of loot and plunder that has brought this country to its knees, light is visible at the end of a dark tunnel and there is hope that Pakistan may emerge from its depths by the actions of our valiant soldiers who are laying down their lives in North Waziristan as well as battling the negative forces of corruption in our cities. Once these immediate issues have been tackled, the next steps would need to be taken to embark on a far-sighted programme of socio-economic development and transition to a high value-added knowledge economy – the path taken by General Park in Korea or Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore.

For Pakistan to emerge from its present depths of poverty, hunger, deprivation, joblessness and foreign debt, it needs to tap into the creative potential of about 100 million persons who are below the age of 20, which is about 56 percent of the population of our country. This can only be achieved through investing massively in a high-quality education system that allows us to prepare the required number of high-quality professionals in areas of national need. We can then utilise them in carefully selected national projects geared to achieve self-reliance and enhance exports, particularly of high technology products.

A wonderful beginning in this direction was made in 2002 by the establishment of the Higher Education Commission. Within a short period of six years between 2002 and 2008, Pakistan saw its universities uplifted as never before and four universities became ranked among the top 500 of the world in the Higher Education Times Rankings with NUST leading the pack with a respectable world ranking of 370. Even India became concerned at these developments and detailed presentations were made to the Indian prime minister about the rapid progress being made in Pakistan (reported in Hindustan Times on July 23, 2006 by Neha Mehta).

With the change of government in 2008, this golden era of higher education came to an abrupt end as repeated attempts were made by 200 parliamentarians with forged degrees to shred the HEC into pieces. I resigned in protest when the PPP government withheld the scholarships of thousands of students sent by the HEC for PhD studies abroad, forcing them to beg in the streets and mosques of Europe.

A statement was issued by Senator Razina Alam Khan, Chairperson Senate Standing Committee on Education that, and I quote: “It’s an unbearable loss for the education sector of the country.” She said that the committee was shocked over the decision and would hold a press conference in this connection. “The HEC revamped the overall system of higher education in the country under the leadership of Dr Atta. He started a number of programmes to enhance both quality and quantity of our higher education institutions. His period will be remembered as the golden period in higher education”.

It was only due to my petition before the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the HEC has survived, though Sindh and Punjab have gone ahead to form their own HECs in open defiance of the Supreme Court decision.

The Nawaz government has restored funding to higher education and it is hoped that the momentum of development initiated during the period that I was heading the HEC will be restored. For this it is necessary that the massive programme for foreign scholarships be restarted and at least 2000 of our brightest students be sent to the best universities of the world each year so that the faculties in universities are strengthened. At the same time it is vitally important to improve school- and college-level education; a balanced across-the-board investment in education is needed.

The 320-page roadmap regarding how to establish a knowledge-based economy and to enhance exports in key sectors such as agriculture, engineering goods, textiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics, information technology etc was prepared under my supervision and approved by the cabinet in August 2007. We need to implement it. For this we need the requisite numbers of highly qualified scientists and engineers. There are 10,563 scientists and engineers per million population (pmp) in Finland, 9,222 in Norway, 8,846 in Denmark and an average of 4,481 in EU countries. However there are only an average of about 300 scientists and engineers pmp in Pakistan, highlighting how far we have fallen behind.

The government has a pivotal role to play in ensuring universal literacy, establishing good technical and vocational schools, and setting up world-class colleges and universities with centres of excellence in selected fields. It is also necessary to establish technology parks to allow new technologies to be promoted through business and technology incubators, set up venture capital funds to promote innovation and entrepreneurship through new start-up companies, and establish industrial clusters in key fields such as biotechnology, engineering goods, electronics, pharmaceuticals and other high-tech areas.

The winds of change that are now blowing across Pakistan must not stop at just rooting out terrorism and at punishing the corrupt. They must go on to lead the nation on a path to prosperity by establishing a strong knowledge economy.

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