Pakistan's chance of a moon shot bleak, notes Pak opinion piece

Islamabad, July 27 (IANS) "Will Pakistan also get a slice of the moon?" With India's launch of Chandrayaan-2, its second mission to the moon, Pakistanis naturally want to know where they stand in science and what has given India "this enormous lead over Pakistan?"

While comparing the Pakistani space agency Suparco's "silence on space exploration plans", an opinion piece in The Dawn says the credit for India's strides in space science should go to its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. "An atheistic Nehru brought to India an acceptance of European modernity," writes Pervez Hoodbhoy, noted Pakistani nuclear physicist who teaches in Lahore and Islamabad.

He says if history could be "wound back by 70-80 years" and Nehru was replaced by Narendra Modi, then "instead of astronomy, today's India would be pursuing astrology. Its university departments would have many 'ganitagayons' but few mathematicians, an army of 'rishis' would outnumber physicists. The cure for cancer would be sought in yoga while floods and earthquakes would somehow be linked to cow slaughter. Instead of devising Chandrayaan, Indian scientists would be searching for the fictitious Vimana of Ravana."

Remarking that while "Pakistan never had a Nehru", he writes that the country suffered a "further setback during the Ziaul Haq days (from 1978-88) when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's modernism had its remaining flesh eaten off by Allama Iqbal's 'Shaheen'."

"As if to compensate the loss of appetite for science, buildings for half-a-dozen science institutions were erected along Islamabad's Constitution Avenue. They could be closed down today and no one would notice. Today's situation for science - "every kind except agriculture and biotechnology" - is dire."

On Pakistan's national space agency - Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) - he says it is "silent on space exploration plans" though it was born a year before its Indian counterpart ISRO.

"Suparco lists its earliest achievement the periodic launches of US-supplied weather monitoring Rehbar rockets between 1962 and 1972. The most recent activity listed is of July 9, 2018, when China launched two remote sensing satellites for Pakistan to monitor progress on CPEC. One of the two "was indigenously designed and solely developed by Suparco, and is primarily aimed at remote sensing".

Terming it as a "pathetic website", the writer says as a space filler Suparco "speaks in hushed terms about the Hatf and Shaheen-III missile programmes but falls short of saying what Suparco's role was, if any".

He lists the last four chairmen of Suparco and their educational qualifications - all four were army generals with three, including the present one Maj Gen Amer Nadeem, being science graduates, while one had done a masters in science.

He was unsparing in his criticism of Pakistan's "three most celebrated scientists", who he said "have precious little to offer". Though he did not name them, his hints are enough to identify two as A.Q. Khan, known as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, and Samar Mubarakmand.

Of Khan, who he identifies as 'X', Hoodbhoy says, the nuclear physicist "appears to have lost his earlier passion for bombs and missiles and these days is mostly concerned with finding religious cure to cancer as well as advising women on how to deal with menopause problems".

Of Mubarakmand, he writes that the scientist is under probe "because he spent Rs 4.69 billion gasifying Thar coal but failed to produce a single watt of electricity".

On scientist 'Z', the writer says he "has clawed his way back to power but cannot explain why billions spent upon his institute have not produced a single useful pharmaceutical product". The reference could likely be to Atta-ur-Rahman, who is serving as Chairman of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Science and Technology.

"Pakistan's chance of a moon shot "unless on the back of a Chinese rocket" will stay zero for a long time. There is no reason to cry about this. Much more important problems need to be addressed. Solving them needs a strong scientific base at every step.

"Creating this base calls for developing scientific attitudes and dumping non-scientific ones. Symbolically this amounts to putting Sir Syed ahead of Allama Iqbal as a national icon. Impossible? Maybe. But, as they say, you can't make an omelette without breaking an egg," says Hoodbhoy, who is also an activist concerned with promotion of freedom of speech, secularism and education in Pakistan.

--IANS

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