During Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to China, 15 memoranda of understanding were signed to strengthen the collaboration between the two “iron brothers.” One very important sector for such cooperation is science and technology, or S&T.

Pakistan and China have been engaged in S&T cooperation since 1976, when the two nations signed an agreement on this sector. Since then, several protocols has been signed and executed successfully.

The current protocol is the 18th one to be executed. Hundreds of collaborations and joint research and development projects have been completed. Many mutual visits have been conducted, and interaction between the scientist community of both sides has been promoted and encouraged. Many conferences, workshops and seminars have been organized, and several joint research laboratories established.

China has been training Pakistani workers in cutting-edge and emerging technologies on a regular basis. There are around 28,000 young Pakistanis in Chinese universities studying various areas of science and technology. This number will increase exponentially as the Chinese government has launched many more new scholarships and schemes under the Belt and Road Initiative.

China has become a major contributor of human-resource development to enable Pakistan to face the challenges of modern needs. To promote this important cooperation, both countries maintain S&T sections in their respective embassies in each other’s capitals.

The Pakistani Embassy in Beijing maintains an S&T section at a counselor level representing the Ministry of Science and Technology, while the First Secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad represents the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. The two ministries keep in close contact and organize various activities in close coordination. Collaboration in the establishment of “S&T parks” and technology transfer centers will further boost this cooperation.

Khan’s visit to China emphasized cooperation in the following areas:

  • The two sides agreed to strengthen policy dialogue and strategic communication on maritime issues and expressed satisfaction on the China-Pakistan Maritime Cooperation Dialogue. They agreed to continue their close cooperation on navigation security, marine economy, exploration and utilization of marine resources, marine scientific research and marine environmental protection.
  • They agreed to expand and deepen their collaboration in the areas of new and emerging technologies, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information and communications technology, “which can contribute to improved living standards through their applications in the fields of health, agriculture, water, energy and food security.”
  • The two sides agreed to promote the 2012-2020 Space Cooperation Outline between the China National Space Administration and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). Expressing satisfaction on the launch of the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite this year, the two sides agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in space technology applications. They agreed to strengthen cooperation in the field of manned space travel, and the China Manned Space Engineering Office and SUPARCO will sign a framework agreement on cooperation.
  • The two sides “agreed to enhance their cooperation in the areas of climate change, desertification control, desalination, water management, afforestation and ecological restoration, wetland protection and restoration, wildlife protection, forestry industry development, disaster management and risk reduction, and other areas of mutual interest.”
  • Pakistan “recognized the great strides made by China in the field of agriculture. Both sides agreed to build on existing cooperation in the area of agriculture and explore new areas of joint collaboration.”

Chinese experience

S&T played a vital role in the rapid development of China. It invested heavily in S&T and higher education in the early stages of opening up and reforms, in the early 1980s and 1990s. Once China was equipped with appropriate human resources, the economic takeoff was smooth and rapid.

The Chinese development model has proved successful, and Pakistan is seriously willing to learn it. Pakistan is passing through its worst economic crisis and wants to overcome it in the shortest possible time. The new government is impressed by Chinese achievements and always praises the poverty eradication in China as a benchmark.

The way forward

Pakistan needs to formulate a new S&T policy, which should be based on wider consultation of all stakeholders. It should be focused on resolving indigenous issues, while maintaining best practices of international standards.

Pakistan has produced outstanding scientists, engineers and technologists, some of whom are serving in developed countries and contributing to the development of the West. If enabling environments are provided, they can pull Pakistan out of all crises. Pakistan is full of talent and blessed with a varied workforce. Government should provide them proper guidance, and friendly and flexible policies.

Pakistan should ensure a strictly merit-based work environment and performance-based promotions. Money is one of the best motivations for the common man. Nepotism and favoritism must be rooted out from all walks of life.

Pakistani S&T manpower has delivered was expected from them in strategic organizations. It is evident that if similar policies are implemented in other organizations, the S&T sector is capable of meeting the challenges of coming days.

It is expected that under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan will take off economically and S&T will play the role of the engine of growth. Pakistan’s S&T community is capable and willing to accept all challenges.