On Monday, June 12, 2023, CPPG hosted a seminar on The Role of Science in Pakistan’s Diplomacy. Mr. Kamran Akhtar, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who has been heading the arms control, disarmament, and science diplomacy division was invited to speak. Mr. Akhtar has a Masters in Nuclear Physics and received specialized training in weapons of mass destruction, border interdiction, and sustainable development agenda. The session was moderated by Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Founding Director and Professor at CPPG.
Mr. Kamran Akhtar initiated his talk by discussing the interplay between science and diplomacy, which according to him is not a novel relationship as science and technology have been used for positive image projection and a tool of soft power for several decades.
To build his arguments around Science and Technology Initiative(STI), he referred to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 as an example where the development of economic, cultural, and scientific relations was carried out by STI, and friendly ties were promoted through it. While explaining STI’s role in the projection of national power, he quoted several STI-induced national endeavors by the great powers, the United States, Russia, China, and European Union (EU). These powers have been continually showcasing their strength by introducing innovations, and quick interventions in response to natural calamities/ spread of pandemics like COVID and then competing for vaccine inventions and deploying a large part of the budget for scientific ventures, from vaccines to cyberspace.
He brought to attention and analyzed three facets of science diplomacy that included diplomacy for science, science for diplomacy, and science in diplomacy. In diplomacy for science, he argued that diplomacy has helped in the facilitation of international science co-operations, whereas science & technology has been used for improving relationships between different countries, thus contributing to the promotion of diplomatic ties in the international arena. While, for science in diplomacy, science has aided in forming policy objectives for combatting challenges like climate change, health, and disarmament, and the scientific advice and ways have made countries come out of several challenges. In response to the 21st-century challenges, that of climate change, environmental hazards, etc., he added that there is a further need for collective responses and the formation of scientific, and technology-driven solutions by countries in the South and North.
Sharing the objectives of the Science Diplomacy Initiative by the Pakistani government, he informed that government focuses on several programs; for example, facilitation of national development, fostering STI collaborations, bringing a sharper focus on SDGs implementation, Human Resource Development, marketing local universities, establishing educational linkages, promoting local startups, popularization of science in Pakistan, soft power projection and linking Pakistani centers of excellence with foreign centers of excellence. Despite these initiatives, he pleaded for improvement, for which it needs to work on the development of the science and technology ecosystem–in the form of science diplomacy training societies, long-term STI planning, Technology Mapping and Foresights, harmonization of regulatory standards, and technology absorption. While concluding his talk, he showcased pictures of projects and equipment that have been made and carried out by Pakistan on national and international platforms.
The talk was followed by a stimulating Q/A Session that lasted half an hour. Dr. Saeed Shafqat thanked the guest for his insightful and informative and inspiring presentation, and for sharing the practitioner’s perspective and experiences with the students, scientists, and the academic community.