R&D: An Imperative to Sustainable Socioeconomic Development of Pakistan

Starting from the early 2000s, research and development (R&D) culture and infrastructure was push started under the leadership of the well-known scientist Dr. Atta-Ur-Rehman. For the first time, science and technology (S&T) was given its due weight. New initiatives were introduced, funding was provided generously and as a result, a research culture was promoted amongst the scientific community. Research infrastructure like research laboratories, research equipment, and instruments were procured and attractive incentives were provided. 

R&D is based on two things: Human resource and infrastructure. The Government of Pakistan started to train its human resource and sent a large number of its brilliant youth to the world’s leading universities for higher education like Masters, PhD and Post Doctoral programs. Through this initiative, an adequate force of human resource was trained for R&D. On the other hand, research labs were established and in some cases, existing labs were upgraded. Although there is no end to the ever increasing requirements and there’s always space for improvement, but the status of human resource and infrastructure acquired was sufficient for its time. 
Motivating your workforce is the key factor to increase productivity. Several initiatives were introduced to motivate individuals, like:
•  Introduction of the PhD allowance amounting to Rs. 5000 (FY-2002), which was almost equivalent to the basic salary at that time. Almost doubling the salary was a big incentive for doing PhD, and it has produced tangible impacts as more young people are opting for PhD and today the number of enrolled PhDs meet expectations. 
•  Introduction of the Productivity Allowance. The allowance was based on the quality of internationally recognized publications. The yardstick set to measure the quality of the publication comprised: the Impact Factor (IF) and Citation Factor (CF). Based on the quality of their publications, the individuals were graded in A, B, C and D grades, where they were awarded cash awards of 100K, 80K, 60K and 40K per month respectively. This encouraged the publishers to publish more as well in high impact factor journals. 
• Publication was also one of the criteria for promotion in faculty positions in the universities. Salaries of faculty were linked to number and quality of the publication, which has shown encouraging results.
•  Introduction of travel grants. Travel grants for oral presentations of research papers to international conferences were provided liberally, motivating the researchers to improve their publications and also gain international exposure. It is very much important to know what is happening around the world, status of research and new trends of research in one's area of interest, which can be gained only by interaction with the international community through conferences, seminars, and workshops etc.
•   Those who completed their PhD inside Pakistan and lacked international exposure were encouraged to go abroad for a Post Doctoral program. There were tremendous opportunities for paid Post Doctoral opportunities internationally. In fact, Post Doctoral programs are treated as paid jobs for short duration with specific research objectives and international availability.
•   Active researchers were provided with partial tax exemption. There were many other initiatives for developing human resource and development of infrastructure to boost research output of Pakistan. As a result, research output has gained a certain momentum and Pakistan is publishing approximately 12,000 papers annually, and the trend is gradually growing on an annual basis. 
Unfortunately, during 2008-2013, the government had deprioritized R&D and reduced funding to Higher Education Commission (HEC). This action harmed many initiatives launched by the HEC and hampered the development of R&D in Pakistan. Funding, however, was again partially restored to some extent during 2013-18. However, due to highly politicized and polarized institutional culture the desired results could not be achieved.
Issues with R&D
Although the quality and quantity of research output in Pakistan is encouraging, it lacks in addressing the issues of national interest. Most of the research conducted was irrelevant to Pakistan’s domestic issues. The research topics when selected were not in line with long-term national needs. In reality, what is happening is that when our researchers go abroad to leading universities, they are not mentored in areas of research required by Pakistan. So they conduct whatever research is available or advised by their foreign PhD supervisors. After completing their PhDs they come back to Pakistan and continue their research on the same lines as they were conducting in the foreign university. This research, without a doubt, is of great quality but does not match with the national needs in most of the cases. There is a dire need to guide our researchers on our national issues and priority areas. Priority issues may be specified so that future researchers can contribute to those areas on which the government and private sector are working in Pakistan. Additionally, existing researchers may be advised to address the national issue and solve the problems faced by the Pakistani industry or society. 
National policies may be readdressed to motivate researchers to solve domestic issues. The current practice of having Impact Factor (IF) and Citation Factor (CF) is given much weight which is less of a motivating factor for the researchers working in applied research. Socioeconomic development is possible only by applied research but it is equally important to conduct theoretical research as applied research is not possible without basic or theoretical research. So there should be a balance between applied and basic research. 
In fact, policy changes are required to motivate our researchers to contribute to the national economy and social development by conducting applied research. Unfortunately, our policies are not in conjunction with our national interests. The current research output may be useful for NASA or any other developed nation, but not applicable to resolve domestic issues. For example, Dr. A. Q. Khan, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand and many other scientists involved in core research for national security are not rated among the leading scientists of Pakistan, because they were focused to address the challenges faced by Pakistan through applied research, hence they could not publish enough papers. Pakistan’s security and defence depends on many such researchers, I’d rather use the word heroes who go unacknowledged, even though they have contributed so much to science. There is also a dire need to revise our policies to acknowledge and motivate these heroes to proceed towards commercial ventures. Policies should provide incentives to applied researchers as well as theoretical researchers equally. Individuals should be rewarded if they solve national issues. 
The current economic crisis is very serious and the government has to take immediate measures on war footing to ensure that Pakistan may not default nor depend on borrowing more money from IMF or from friendly nations. Especially so while we are going for rapid industrialization in Pakistan under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Chinese industry is willing to shift to Pakistan, we even have a greater need than ever to prioritize the role of applied research to address the present and future challenges faced by Pakistan. Some of the prerequisites may be defined as: 
•  People first: Developing human and social capital.
•  Growth: Sustained, indigenous, and inclusive growth.
•  Democratic governance: Institutional reforms and modernization of the public sector.
•  Security: Water, energy and food security.
•  Entrepreneurship: Private sector and entrepreneur-led growth, as private sector is the actual engine of growth.
•  Knowledge economy: Developing a competitive knowledge economy through value addition.
•  Connectivity: Modernizing transport infrastructure and regional connectivity.
Core Research Areas
In order to get the required socioeconomic uplift through CPEC, Pakistan needs to identify its strengths and then focus its R&D on those specific areas. Some of the core industries like agriculture, textile, petrochemical, logistics and light industry should be our focus. 

  • Suggested focus areas of research are:
  • Genetic modification for higher yields and pest resistance in major crops as well as for improvement of livestock traits (disease/heat resistance, high meat/milk yield).
  • Value addition in agricultural products (especially fruits, milk, and meat etc.) through novel and innovative food processing and preservation techniques.
  • Efficient cropping and irrigation practices.
  • Better storage and transportation practices.
  • Development of good quality and disease-free seeds.
  • Use of remote sensing technology for pest surveillance and monitoring of the irrigation system.


  • Climate smart agriculture to maintain soil health and resilience for sustainable future food security.
  • Database for livestock and crops at breed and variety level on actual basis, readily available for evaluation and decision-making.
  • Reductions in the wastage (~40% of total) of agriculture produce through infrastructure improvement and installation of facilities for high throughput post-harvest treatment plants at strategic places close to production sites.
  • Availability of seeds of recommended varieties be ensured.
  • Steps be taken to ensure effective technology transfer from R&D institutions and universities to the farmers.
  • Diversification into high value agriculture and value added products.
  • Improving the nutritional quality of staple food to provide essential nutrients such as iron, vitamins, amino acids and proteins.
  • Promotion of kitchen gardening and tunnel farming etc.
  • Adoption of best production and management practices in livestock, poultry and fish farming.
  • A number of scholarships for undergraduate degree training are recommended in Thailand, a country excellent in food security.
  • Rural development programs, including infrastructure and education as well as connectivity measures, are also essential to de-urbanization.
  • Develop irrigation system to conserve water without compromising yield such as drip and sprinkle irrigation systems.
  • Utilization of marginal lands for fodder and wood production.
  • Introduction of community-based agriculture system backed by export facilitation at community level.
  • Strict variety approval and seed production regulations at provincial level by mandatory inclusion of DNA based characterization and purity testing.
  • Strengthen existing institutions and/or establish new ones (agricultural advisory institution) which can predict the viability and quantity of any crop required in the coming season to protect against deficiency or over production of agriculture products.


  • Suggested focus areas of research are:
  • Developing capacity for designing and manufacturing. 
  • Conforming to national and international standards and practices.
  • Standardization and conformity assessment.
  • Automation, embedded and industrial control system.
  • Telecommunication security and access control systems.
  • Energy conservation/management.
  • Development of e-governance applications including electronic national voting.
  • Research in the areas of e-education, e-health, e-agriculture, and e-governance etc.
  • Development of ICTs for businesses.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
  • Indigenous development and manufacturing of vaccines against various diseases (human, livestock and poultry).
  • Manufacturing of basic pharmaceutical ingredients.
  • Value-addition in indigenous herbal wealth.
  • Nutrition and functional food.
  • Developing marine and agriculture equipment.


  • Friendly industrial policies may be devised for uplift of industry while keeping in view the local manufacturers as well as to attract foreign investors.
  • Creating enabling tariff structure and mechanism for development of industrial sector.
  • Establishing technology development/acquisition and innovation fund.
  • Banning export of herbal raw material without value addition.
  • Establishment of public ICT parks.
  • The concept of ‘e-village’ be introduced in Pakistan to extend benefits of ICTs to the doorsteps of rural population for uplifting their social, educational, healthcare and economic infrastructure as well as to minimize digital divide in Pakistan.
  • Cyber entrepreneurship be encouraged and supported by providing advice, guidance, training and financial assistance, especially to youth and fresh graduates.
  • Promote smart phone application development as a core competency among computer science graduates.
  • Establish Venture-Capital Fund using public-private partnership model.
  • State institutes should invest in the development of technologies with a long-term vision.
  • Defence projects be assigned to universities, teams of scientists and engineers in the country on the model of ICT R&D Fund in Pakistan and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of United States.
  • Training programs need to be initiated for capacity building of professionals.
  • National robot technology park should be established.
  • Public and private partnership model may be promoted.

Petrochemical and Energy

  • Suggested focus areas of research are:
  • Development and adoption of indigenous technologies.
  • Development and commercialization of cost-effective and high quality products such as PV panels/devices, water heaters, solar thermal power generation, and ultra-low head micro-hydel plants etc.
  • Urban waste gasification and use of biomass to produce power.
  • Renewable energy technologies such as utilization of wind energy with emphasis on wind farming covering the turbine technology, generators and blade development.
  • Energy-efficient appliances and technologies.
  • Utilization of microbes and plants for the production of biofuels and biogas.
  • Alternative transportation systems which are low-cost, based on alternative energies, mechanically efficient and that can be built inside the country.


  • Industry be encouraged to switch over gradually to energy efficient and renewable energy technologies.
  • Attention be paid to municipal solid waste utilization as RDF (Refuse-Derived Fuel) in cement industry and other energy purposes.
  • Awareness raising campaign amongst masses regarding usage of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies be ensured.
  • Education and training of architects on energy efficient design of buildings and capacity building of Building Control Authorities for evaluation of buildings in the context of energy efficiency, for granting NOCs.
  • Standardization of various industrial processes for energy efficiency be done.
  • Involve big construction and housing schemes in establishing and promoting energy efficient houses/buildings. The concept of zero-energy buildings be promoted, especially in government department housing schemes.
  • Use of solar thermal geysers be encouraged.
  • Support and incentives for R&D in energy efficient and renewable energy technologies, and commercialization of these technologies.
  • Educating the public and strictly implementing the energy saving measures.

Similarly, other sectors like textile, energy and logistics can be our areas of focus. Relevant research in these areas and other relevant areas is stacked in the relevant ministries, waiting to be incorporated and implemented in our national socioeconomic plan. Hopefully, the industry, academia and the government can come on one platform to synergize our excellent R&D potential to complement our national development goals.

The writer is a sinologist (ex-diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of Center for China and Globalization, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]


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