Science and technology in Pakistan

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Science and technology is a growing field in Pakistan and has played an important role in the country's development since its founding. Pakistan has a large pool of scientists, engineers, doctors, and technicians assuming an active role in science and technology. Liaquat Ali Khan the first Prime Minister of Pakistan (in office 15 August 1947 – 16 October 1951), made various reforms to initiate improvement in higher education and scientific research.

Physics (theoretical, nuclear, particle, laser, and quantum physics), material science, metallurgy (engineering), biology, chemistry (organic), and mathematics, are some of the fields in which Pakistani scientists have contributed. From the 1960s and onwards, the Pakistani government made the development and advancement of science a national priority and showered top scientists with honours. While the government has made efforts to make science a part of national development, there have been criticisms of federal policies, such as the government's dissolution of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC)— an administrative body that supervised research in science — in 2011. Pakistani scientists have won acclaim in mathematics and in several branches of physical science, notably theoretical and nuclear physics, chemistry, and astronomy. Professor Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist, was the first and (as of 3 November 2013) the only Pakistani to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics (1979).

Technology is most highly developed in nuclear physics and explosives engineering, where the arms race with India convinced policy makers to set aside sufficient resources for research. Due to a programme directed by Munir Ahmad Khan and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Pakistan is the seventh nation to have developed an atomic bomb, which the global intelligence community believes it had done by 1983 (see Kirana-I), nine years after India (see Pokhran-I). Pakistan first publicly tested its devices (see Chagai-I and Chagai-II) on 28 and 30 May 1998, two weeks after India carried out its own tests (See Pokhran-II).[1] Space exploration was hastily developed, in 1990 Pakistan launched Badr-1 followed by Badr-II in 2001. Since the 1980s, the space programme dedicated itself to military technologies (Space weapons programme and Integrated missile systems), and maintains a strong programme developed for military applications.

Pakistan is an associate member of CERN, one of the few countries to obtain that status.[2]


The Scientific and Technological Research Division (S&TR) was established in 1964 for (i) coordination and implementation of national science and technology policy; (ii) promotion and coordination of research and utilization of the results of research; (iii) development, production and utilization of nuclear energy; and (iv) coordination of utilization of scientific and technological manpower. The Division was administratively responsible for National Science Council, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Space and Upper Atmospheric Research Committee. The Ministry of Science and Technology (MoS&T) has been functioning since 1972. It is the national focal point and enabling arm of Government of Pakistan for planning, coordinating and directing efforts; to initiate and launch scientific and technological programs and projects as per national agenda for sound and sustainable Science & Technology Research base for the socio-economic development. From the areas of industrial development to renewable energy and rural development, the Ministry suggests technological development for higher growth-rates and to improve standards of living. Its principal focus is on building Pakistan's technological competence and developing a larger pool of human resources to reverse brain drain, and for integrating the existing technological infrastructure for strengthening of technology institutions, effective governance of S&TR and enhancing the capacity of indigenous innovation systems.

State controlled science[edit]

Unlike some Western countries, the majority of the research programmes are conducted not at the institutions (such as universities) but at specially set up research facilities and institutes.[3] These institutes are performed under the government's Ministry of Science that overlooks the development and promotion of science in the country, while others are performed under the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, other specialized academies and even the research arms of various government ministries.[3] At first, the core of fundamental science was the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, originally set up in 1953 and moved from Karachi to Islamabad in 1964.[4] The Pakistan Academy of Sciences has a large percentage of researchers in the natural sciences, particularly physics.[4] From 1947 to 1971, the research was being conducted independently with no government influence.[4] The High Tension Laboratories (HTL) at the Government College University, Lahore (GCU) was established by R. M. Chaudhry with funds given by the British government in the 1950s.[5] In 1967, Professor Abdus Salam led the foundation of the Institute of Theoretical Physics (ITP) at the Quaid-e-Azam University, and the establishment of the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) and the Centre for Nuclear Studies; all were independently established by Pakistan's academic scientists with financial assistance provided by European countries.[5] However, after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became President, he took control of scientific research in 1972 as part of his intensified socialist reforms and policies.[5] With advice taken from Dr. Mubashir Hassan, Bhutto established the Ministry of Science with Ishrat Hussain Usmani, a bureaucrat with a doctorate in atomic physics.[3][5]

During the 1950s and 1960s, both West Pakistan and East Pakistan had their own academies of science, with the East Pakistan relying on West Pakistan to allot the funds.[3] Medical research is coordinated and funded by the Health Ministry[6] and agricultural research is led by Agriculture Ministry[7] and likewise, the research on environmental sciences is headed by the Environment Ministry.[5][8]

An aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan Winter War was that President Bhutto increased scientific funding by the Government by more than 200%, mostly dedicated to military research and development. Bhutto, with the help of his Science Adviser Dr. Salam, gathered hundreds of Pakistani scientists working abroad to develop what became Pakistan's atom bomb. This crash programme was directed at first by Dr. Abdus Salam until 1974, and then directed and led by Dr. Munir Ahmad Khan from 1974 until 1991. For the first time an effort was made by the government when Pakistan's citizens made advancements in nuclear physics, theoretical physics and mathematics. In the 1980s, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq radicalized science by enforcing pseudoscience - by his Muslim fundamentalists as administrators - in Pakistan's schools and universities. One of the premiers were Mazhar Mahmood Qurashi, a physicist educated in the United Kingdom, and Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a nuclear engineer, also educated in the UK. They played a major role in radicalizing science in Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq later promoted Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan to export the sensitive industrial (military) technologies to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. Because of government control, academic research in Pakistan remains highly classified and unknown to the international scientific community. There have been several failed attempts made by foreign powers to infiltrate the country's research facilities to learn how much research has progressed and how much clandestine knowledge has been gained by Pakistan's scientists.[9] One of the notable cases was in the 1970s, when the Libyan intelligence made an unsuccessful attempt to gain knowledge on critical aspects of nuclear technology, and crucial mathematical fast neutron calculations in theoretical physics. It was thwarted by the ISI Directorate for Joint Intelligence Technical (JIT).[9] From the 1980s and onward, both Russian intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency made several attempts to access Pakistan's research but because of the ISI, they were unable to gain any information.[9] From the period 1980 to 2004, research in science fell short until General Pervez Mushrraf established the Higher Education Commission (HEC) which heightened the contribution of science and technology in Pakistan. Major research was undertaken by Pakistan's institutes in the field of natural sciences.[3] In 2003, the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of Pakistan and the United States Department of State signed a comprehensive Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement that established a framework to increase cooperation in science, technology, engineering and education for mutual benefit and peaceful purposes between the science and education communities in both countries. In 2005, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) joined with the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to support the joint Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program. Beginning in 2008, the U.S. Department of State joined USAID as U.S. co-sponsor of the program. This program, which is being implemented by the National Academy of Sciences on the U.S. side, is intended to increase the strength and breadth of cooperation and linkages between Pakistan scientists and institutions with counterparts in the United States.[10] However, with unfavourable situations,[clarification needed] research declined. In 2011, the government dissolved the HEC and the control of education was taken over by governmental ministries.[3]

Scientific research institutions (SRI)[edit]

A large part of research is conducted by science research institutes with semi-controlled by the Government.

Notable scientists[edit]

Nobel Prize[edit]

UNESCO Science Prize[edit]

  • Atta-ur-Rahman - winner of the UNESCO Science Prize for pioneering contributions in natural product chemistry in 1999. He is the first scientist from the Islamic world to have won this prize.

Albert Einstein Award[edit]

  • Riazuddin — winner of Einstein Award (2000) for his contribution in theoretical physics, notably the contribution in neutrinos. Riazuddin, pupil student of Salam, remains the most state decorated scientist of Pakistan with receiving state honors and international prizes, second to Abdus Salam.
  • Mujahid Kamran — winner of Einstein Award (2001) for the leading research in quantum mechanics.

Order of Excellence[edit]

Scientists who are awarded the highest hierarchy of Pakistan, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence).

  • Rafi Muhammad Chaudhry — honored in 1998 for his contribution in the advancement of nuclear physics.
  • Abdus Salam — honored in 1979 for outstanding contribution in developing the Pakistan science.
  • Ishfaq Ahmad — honored with Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1998) for his contribution in nuclear physics.
  • Abdul Qadeer Khan — honored twice (1996 and 1999) for developing the gas-centrifuge programme.
  • Riazuddin — awarded and honored (1998) for his contribution to theoretical physics.
  • Atta-ur-Rahman — honored in 2002 for his edge leading research in Natural product chemistry.
  • Samar Mubarakmand — honored in 2003 for the contribution in space programme and accelerator physics.
  • Ishrat Hussain Usmani — honored in 1998 for his enhancing the science in Pakistan.
  • Munir Ahmad Khan — honored in 2012 for his contribution to physics and nuclear engineering in Pakistan.

Order of Crescent[edit]

Scientists who are conferred with second highest honored, the Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Order of Crescent).

National prizes[edit]

The most prestigious government prize awarded for achievements in science and technology is Nishan-e-Imtiaz (or in English Order of Excellence). While Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, and Tamgha-e-Imtiaz occupies a unique role and importance in Pakistan's civil society.


In 1961, international achievements first recorded in 1961 when Pakistan became the third[clarification needed] Asian country and tenth[clarification needed] in the world when the Rehbar-I — a solid fuel expandable rocket— was launched from Sonmani Spaceport. The Rehbar-I was developed and launched under the leadership of Dr. W. J. M. Turowicz, a Polish-Pakistani scientist and then project director of this program. Since then, the program began taking flights which continued until the 1970s.

A major breakthrough occurred in 1979, when the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Abdus Salam, for formulating the electroweak theory — a theory that provides the basis of unification of weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force. In 1990, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) launched the first, and locally designed, communication satellite, Badr-1, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XLSC) of the People's Republic of China. With the launch, Pakistan became the first Muslim majority country to have developed an artificial robotic satellite, and was the second South Asian state to have launched its satellite, second to India.

One of the widely reported achievements was in 1998, when the country joined the nuclear club. In response to India's nuclear tests on 11 May and 13 May 1998, under codename Operation Shakti, in the long-constructed Pokhran Test Range (PTR). Under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) conducted five simultaneous tests at the Chagai Hills under codename Chagai-I on 28 May1998. PAEC carried out another test in the Kharan Desert, under Chagai-II, meaning it had tested six devices in under one week. With the testing of these atomic devices, Pakistan became the seventh nuclear power in the world, and the only Muslim-majority country to have mastered the technology. On 13 August 2011, SUPARCO launched its first indigenously developed geosynchronous satellite, Paksat-1R also from XLSC in China.

Information technology[edit]

As of 2011, Pakistan has over 20 million internet users and is ranked as one of the top countries that have registered a high growth rate in internet penetration. Overall, it has the 15th largest population of internet users in the world. In the fiscal year 2012-2013, the Government of Pakistan aims to spend 4.6 billion rupees (Rs.) on information technology projects, with emphasis on e-government, human resource and infrastructure development.[11] The rapid progress made by Pakistan in the IT and telecom sector during 2000-2002, under Professor Atta-ur-Rahman as Federal Minister, led to the spread of internet from 29 cities in the year 2000 to 1,000 cities, towns and villages by 2002, and the spread of fiber from 40 cities to 400 cities in this period. The internet prices were reduced sharply from $87,000 per month for a 2 MB line to only $3000 per month and later to $90 per month. The mobile telephony boom began by the drastic lowering of prices, bringing in of competition (Ufone) and changing the system so that the person receiving a call was no longer required to pay any charges. A satellite was placed in space (Paksat 1) at a cost of only $4 million. These changes in the IT infra-structure proved invaluable for the Higher education sector. Pakistan Educational Research Network was set up in 2004 through which one of the finest digital libraries was established in universities. In 2002, few university libraries could subscribe to a handful of journals. Today every student in every public sector university has free access to over 20,000 international journals with back volumes and over 60,000 books from 250 international publishers.[12] Pakistan’s information technology industry has gone through a dramatic change, and the country has taken the lead in adopting some technologies while also setting an example for others in global best practices.[citation needed] Matters relating to the IT industry are overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of Pakistan. The IT industry is regarded as a successful sector of Pakistan economically, even during the financial crisis.[clarification needed] The Government of Pakistan has given numerous favors to IT investors in the country since the last decade, that resulted in the development of the IT sector. In the years 2003-2005 the country's IT exports saw a rise of about fifty percent and amounted a total of about 48.5 million USD. The World Economic Forum, assessing the development of Information and Communication Technology in the country ranked Pakistan 102nd among 144 countries in the Global Information Technology report of 2012.[citation needed]

Golden age of science[edit]

Pakistan is the home of Dr. Abdus Salam the first Pakistani winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Salam was the father of scientific research in Pakistan.[13] Under the watchful direction of Salam, mathematicians and physicists tackled the greatest and outstanding problems in physics and mathematics.[13] From 1960 to 1974, Salam was responsible for leading the research at its maximum point. This prompted the international recognition of Pakistani mathematicians and physicists, allowing them to conduct their research at CERN.[13] Salam and his students (Riazuddin, Fayyazuddin and others) revolutionized particle and theoretical physics, are thought to be modern pioneers of particle physics at all aspect of it. Pure research was undertaken in Quantum electrodynamics, Quantum field theory, protonic decay and major fields in physics, were pioneered by Pakistan's scientists. With the establishment of nuclear and neutron institutes in the country, Pakistan's mathematicians introduced complex mathematical applications to study and examine the behaviours of elements during the fission process. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, Atta-ur-Rahman and Iqbal Choudhary are the pioneering personalities for studying the isolation of unique chemical compounds from the Neem (Azadirachta indica), Rauvolfia, ("Catharanthus roseus"), ("Buxus papillosa") and various other plants.

The 1960s and the 1970s period is regarded as the rise of Pakistan's science, which gained an international reputation in the different science communities of the world.[13] During this period, scientists contributed to the fields of, particularly, theoretical, particle, mathematical, and nuclear physics, and other major and sub fields of Physics.[13] The research was preceded by such physicists as Riazuddin, Ishfaq Ahmad, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Samar Mubarakmand.

International Praise[edit]

Since the Higher Education Commission (HEC) reforms have been carried out in 2002, HEC has received praise from international higher education observers. Rahman, founding Chairman of HEC, has received a number of international awards for the transformation of the higher education sector under his leadership.[25] German academic, Dr. Wolfgang Voelter of Tübingen University in Germany over viewed the performance of HEC under the leadership of Rahman and described the reforms in HEC as "A miracle happened." After teaching and visiting in 15 universities of Pakistan, Voelter wrote that the "scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan has changed dramatically, as never before in the history of the country.[25] The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced the first 6 years of HEC under Rahman as "Pakistan's golden period in higher education".[14]

American academic Prof. Fred M. Hayward has also praised the reform process undertaken by Pakistan, admitting that "since 2002, a number of extraordinary changes have taken place."[15] Hayward pointed our that "over the last six years almost 4,000 scholars have participated in PhD programs in Pakistan in which more than 600 students have studied in foreign PhD programs."[27] The HEC instituted major upgrades for scientific laboratories, rehabilitating existing educational facilities, expanding the research support, and overseeing the development of one of the best digital libraries in the region.[27] Seeking to meeting the international standard, a quality assurance and accreditation process was also established, of which, ~95% of students sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities as well as bonding and strict follow-up by the commission, Fulbright, and others."[15]

The HEC's reforms were also applauded by the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) which reported that the "progress made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects."[16] In limited time, the HEC established and provided free access to scientific literature by high-speed Internet for all universities, the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country, and the programme of establishing new universities of science and technology, including science parks attracted the foreign investors, prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country enabled.[29] The UNCSTD has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the conclusion that HEC's program initiated under the leadership of Rahman is a "best-practice" example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy."[16]

Rahman has won four international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought in the HEC. Nature, a leading science journal, has also written a number of editorials and articles about the transformation brought about in Pakistan in the higher education sector under the HEC. In an article entitled "Pakistan Threat to Indian Science" published in the leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, India, it has been reported that Professor C. N. R. Rao, Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister at the rapid progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector under the leadership of Rahman, Chairman, Higher Education Commission. It was reported that as a result of the reforms, "Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science". "Science is a lucrative profession in Pakistan. It has tripled the salaries of its scientists in the last few years."[17]


Pakistan has been known internationally for some of its major achievements in science and technology such as successful development of media and military technologies and a growing base of doctors and engineers, as well as its new influx of software engineers who have been actively contributing to Pakistan's potential in the Information Technology industry. Due to present situation in Pakistan, around 3,000 Pakistani doctors emigrate to Western economies in search of suitable employment opportunities and hence contribute intellectually to the health sector of developed countries and at the same time leaving the effects of a brain drain in Pakistan.[citation needed]

Despite some progressive scientific achievements, Pervez Hoodbhoy published a report on scientific output in Pakistan in which he pointed out that research and scientific activities are significantly lower than many other developing countries[18] Hoodbhoy cites that Pakistan has produces far fewer papers than neighboring India.[19] In terms of the number of published scientific research papers, together with the citations to them, Hoodbhoy demonstrates that the output of Pakistan for physics papers, over the period from 1 January 1997 to 28 February 2007, together with the total number of publications in all scientific fields, is substantially lower than Brazil, India, China, and the United States.

Pakistan is slated to hold the 48th International Chemistry Olympiad in 2016.[20]

Science community of Pakistan[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Helmenstine, Ph.D., Anne Marie. "This Day in Science History - May 28 - Pakistan Goes Nuclear". Anne Marie Helmenstine of the 
  2. ^ Pakistan officially becomes an associate member of CERN
  3. ^ a b c d e f MoST, Ministry of Science and Technology; Pakistan Government and the Electronic Government Directorate (Updated). "Ministry of Science and Technology". Government of Pakistan. Directorate for Electronic Government (DEG)and the Directorate for the Scientific and Technological Research Division (STRD).  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ a b c PAS, Pakistan Academy of Science. "Introduction". PAS Press Directorate. Directorate for the Information and Public Press of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS). 
  5. ^ a b c d e Ahmad, Ph.D. and D.Sc., Professor Hameed Ahmad (November 2004). "Education, Science and Technology in Developing Countries: Some Thoughts and Recollection: §Higher Education in Pakistan: Current and Future Scenarios." (PDF). COMSATS Journal of Science (Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) Headquarters: Dr. Hameed Ahmad Khan, Doctor of Science in (Astroparticle Physics) and Doctor of Philosophy in (Nuclear Physics) from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.) 1 (1): 212. Retrieved 2011. 
  6. ^ (MH), Ministry of Health (Pakistan); Government of Pakistan. "Ministry of Health". Government of Pakistan and the Ministry of Health of Pakistan. Directorate for the Electronic Government (DEG) and the Directorate for the Health Research and Public Research and Development (HERPURD). 
  7. ^ (minfal), Ministry of Food and Agriculture; Government of Pakistan. "Ministry of Agriculture". Electronic Government Directorate and Directorate for the Agriculture Research and Applied Science (ARAS). 
  8. ^ (moenv), Ministry of Environment; Government of Pakistan. "Ministry of Environment". Electronic Government Directorate and Directorate for the Environmental Research and Applied Science (ERAS). 
  9. ^ a b c Brigadier-General Syed A. I. Tirmazi (1985). Profiles of Intelligence. Combined Printers. Library of Congress Catalogue No. 95-930455.
  10. ^ "Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program". 5 January 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2015. 
  11. ^ Information technology in Pakistan
  12. ^ "‘HEC – why India felt threatened - Prof Atta-ur-Rahman". The News International, Pakistan. 3 September 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Riazuddin (1998-11-21). "Physics in Pakistan". ICTP. Retrieved 2011. 
  14. ^ Voelter, Wolfgang. "The golden period". Dawn ePaper. The golden period, The Dawn, retrieved 20 March 2010
  15. ^ a b Hayward, Fred M. (Winter 2009).Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan: Political & Economic Instability, International Higher Education Quarterly (54), retrieved 20 March 2010
  16. ^ a b Rode, Bernd Michael. Letter from Chairman/European Coordinator of ASEA-UNINET published in DAWN today, DildilpakistanWordpress, retrieved 10 March 2010
  17. ^ Pak threat to Indian science, Hindustan Times, 23 July 2006, retrieved 19 March 2012
  18. ^ Science and the Islamic world—The quest for rapprochement, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Physics Today
  19. ^ [ The seven most scientifically productive Islamic countries as of early 2007 compared against a selection of other countries, Philadelphia-based science information specialist, Thomson Scientific
  20. ^ Pakistan to host 48th International Chemistry Olympiad next year

External links[edit]