Pakistan, US Conclude Scientific Meeting on Optimistic Note

 


Dr Atta ur Rehman

Washington, DC: Senior Pakistani and American officials ended a two-day meeting here on Wednesday evening expressing satisfaction with what had been achieved in bilateral scientific and technical links and hoping to enhance the prospects for economic growth emphasizing environmental protection, including the impact of climate on Pakistan’s water resources and agriculture.
The Pakistani side to the first meeting of the Joint Committee on Science and Technology, which will next meet two years from now, was led by Dr Attaur Rahman, adviser to the prime minister on science and technology, while the US team was headed by Dr Arden Bement, director of the US National Science Foundation.
A joint statement issued at the end of the meeting and made available to the press said that the two sides underscored their resolve to expand US-Pakistan cooperation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and agriculture. However, no details were provided. It was agreed to set up working groups, which after approval by their respective governments, would remain in contact on a continuing basis through video conferencing and other electronic means since there is a running travel advisory from the State Department, warning US citizens not to travel to Pakistan, which is considered a dangerous country.
During the meeting a member of the Pakistan team suggested that the working groups could meet in Dubai, a suggestion that was beaten down by another member who stressed that Pakistan is as safe as the United States, but what it suffers from is an “image problem”. It was also pointed out to the American side that there are 600 multinationals working in Pakistan without any ill effects. “Since the US and Pakistan are jointly fighting the war against terrorism, they should also share its fallout,” a member of the Pakistan delegation commented.
The joint statement said that in the second year of the science and technology cooperation program, the two sides, Pakistan has seen its capacity for technical education and research increase in both public and private sectors. The statement noted that in 2006, 11 new projects focused on water management, engineering, food science, plant science, forensic science and renewable energy had been funded. The cost of these projects totaled nearly $5 million. To date, Pakistan had committed $3.5 million to this initiative against a US commitment of $2 million. In January this year, the program announced grant awards worth more than $5 million in support of 13 new collaborative projects in medicine, agriculture, air quality and water resource management. Three projects focusing on earthquake-related research were also approved. Apart from these projects, 10 more multi-year projects, funded in 2006, would continue in 2007 and beyond. Part of the funding will come from Pakistan.
Dr Attaur Rehman told journalists after the meeting’s conclusion that since he was not a politician, he could speak freely. “In the past, Pakistan has been asking for the wrong things from the United States, whereas education, science and technology should have been our major thrust areas.”
He said discussions held over the last two days had been productive and would open up new opportunities in a variety of areas and disciplines. “There is a lot of enthusiasm on both sides that we need to work together to expand Pakistan-US relationship in the field, we expect that as a result of these interactions many new projects will open up between the two countries,” he added.
His counterpart, Dr Adam Berment, agreed with him and pointed out that the two sides had held a high-level intense dialogue on expanding cooperation in future programes in several important fields. He said during the meeting, both short and long-term opportunities for expanding bilateral cooperation had been identified and the working groups to be formed would flesh out those initiatives through an ongoing process.” He noted that the two sides have benefited from representation by the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations.
Dr Attaur Rehman said in answer to a question that the meeting had also discussed the use of information technology and networking which would include high speed computing, access to the latest networks, the up-gradation of the Pakistan Educational Research Network to the next level involving high speed computing and linkages with US institutions. He said there was also discussion on improvement in digital library programs begun earlier with US assistance that today provide Pakistani students all over the country, including the remotest areas, access to 22,000 international journals. He called it a great source of learning that was not available in the past. Even the best libraries had no more than four or five international journals.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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