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We Need Tanks, Yes, ‘Think’ Tanks!

Posted by yourpakistan on August 8, 2011


There are 4,861 universities in the United States whereas Pakistan has produced only 6,478 PhDs since its birth. The number of living PhDs in Pakistan are far less than the total degree awarding institutions in the United States. Mr. Hussain Haqqani, who happens to be Pakistan Ambassador to the United States (or some say its vice versa) revealed this shocking fact while expressing his anger at a TV show host. He might have intended to ridicule Pakistan’s intellect through this statement, but it was too harsh a reality to deny. Without getting the records straight, we can never look at events in their correct perspective and can very easily fail to formulate a reasonable and accurate world view.

By Ahmed Tamjid Aijazi – August 3, 2011

Looking at the ignorant and inhumane society around us, one vows to refresh their belief in (quality) education. Our hot-blooded public representatives, who get their claws into indecent verbal wars all the time remind us how education could have at least improved our public face. A culture of research and educational growth is the dire need for our nation today and it can act as oxygen for the intellectually disabled and dead leadership of Pakistan. We cannot expect initiatives in this direction from the mere 127 universities, who completely lack research activities and where students enrolled in PhDs are nothing but a public disgrace. According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of nuclear Physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, the PhD candidates in Pakistan find difficulty even in understanding college level elementary courses. Moreover, these universities are more interested in milking out money from wealthy parents rather than laying down the foundations of our nation.

Having said that, I believe, this gap can be filled by none other than independent think tanks. Think tanks or policy institutes are independent research organizations that advocate direction and provide a vision to the economic, financial and sociopolitical domains of a society. They act as a bridge between the leaders, circles of influence and the common man; they help in shaping opinions on national and strategic issues. When people in Pakistan and other third world countries are thriving for basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing, the budgets of think tanks across the world have crossed billions of US dollars. It might be quite difficult for people in this part of the world to digest that such a huge amount is being spent on research activities and policy making. But, since most of the think tanks are driven by ideological or corporate groups, they believe more in long term visions and influencing power players than fire fighting their day to day problems.

It is worth a mention here that there are a total of 5,465 think tanks across the globe, according to a study done in 2009. Out of that, 32.5 % are based in the United States alone; most of which were established after the second world war. Multiple sources indicate that there are 1,777 policy institutes in the United States, 1,198 in Western Europe, 683 in Eastern Europe, 601 in Asia, 408 in Latin America, 274 in Africa and 192 in the Middle East. However, during the past 8 years, the rate of growth of think tanks has decreased, probably due to the fact that humanity is witnessing one of the worst wars of mankind.

Like all others, think tanks also have an ideological breakdown. They can be grouped as conservative, centrist and liberals. Though conservative and centrist have been working on their own agendas, the liberal think tanks have caused quite some damage to Pakistan and the Muslim world as a whole. Be it the ever emerging maps of Pakistan and the Asian region, change in the academic syllabus of Muslim countries, immense propaganda in Western media or advocating aid-cut to Pakistan, most of them have roots in the liberal and neocon think tanks of different ideological groups. These think tanks have not only managed to influence the power players of the world, but have efficiently been used as tools to further ulterior motives of closed groups and secret societies of the world.

Despite lack of research culture and public policy institutes in Pakistan, a couple of think tanks also operate in Pakistan. Most of them focus on internal policies, strategic issues and regional politics, however, they seem to exercise very little influence on the leadership. The mere fact that most of them have been founded by retired military officers reflect the intellectual dominance of armed forces over civilian society. Some notable think tanks in Pakistan are Institute of Policy Studies, Corporate Advisory Council and the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. Zaid Hamid’s BrassTacks can also be qualified as a think tank, but the controversies surrounding Zaid Hamid have overshadowed his academic work.

To get out of the mess Pakistan currently is in and to prove ourselves as one of the intellectually developed nations of the world, we need a very strong culture of research and collective intelligence. With a Pandora box of problems, it might not be practical to expect our fellow citizens to adopt to this trend immediately, however, Pakistanis who are settled abroad and have made their career and wealth are perfect candidates for such ventures. Reputable and financially independent think tanks should be established with long term visions based on sound ideologies; the ones that are able to exercise influence on the power circles of Pakistan. Unless and until we get the army, the civilian leadership and the society on the same page, we cannot expect Pakistan to emerge as a symbol of strength on the map of the world.

Ahmed Tamjid Aijazi is a media consultant, journalist and political commentator based in Karachi. He is a regular contributor to various national and international newspapers and tweets at @tamjidaijazi.

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