Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, also known as Fawad Chaudhry, is known for many things, subtlety not being one of them. A senior politician of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, he is currently a minister in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. In an echo chamber peppered with political correctness and carefully placed tropes, Chaudhry regularly speaks up, taking positions on issues a few in his position have the courage to do so. Often in news for his trademark outspokenness and his no-holds-barred rebuttals articulated in an inoffensive manner to opposition’s attacks on Khan’s government, Chaudhry has carved a unique place in the tiny club of ministers acting as spokespersons of the government in addition to doing the primary job assigned to them. He is also known for occasionally pointing out the flaws of Khan’s government.
In the last two years Chaudhry has remade his political image for singlehandedly turning the almost comatose ministry of science and technology of Pakistan into a vibrant hub of potential and innovation.
Moving from the high-profile ministry of information and broadcasting in 2018, Chaudhry in 2019 took charge of a ministry that was hardly ever in news for any groundbreaking work. He has made science desirable on governmental level in Pakistan. A ministry hidden in dusty files, creaking furniture and jaded bureaucracy is suddenly infused with a new life. Not much progress is possible without a nation focusing on the four essentials of human development in the 21st century: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Chaudhry has mainstreamed that in Pakistan.
I rarely see Chaudhry talk about his work. Pakistan’s media that is nourished on the political battles of the government and the opposition seems to be least interested in the important work of any ministry. On talk shows ministers are invited to give political opinions, and seldom if never to highlight the remarkable work of their ministries. Most of the live media interactions of ministers are also to give counterarguments against various statements of the opposition. If it weren’t for his tweets many Pakistanis would have remained unaware of what is happening in the ministry of science and technology–reinvented, repackaged, reformatted in the very able hands of Chaudhry Fawad Hussain.
I asked Chaudhry a few questions:
Having been removed from the ministry of information in 2019, your appointment as Minister of Science and Technology was considered, by naysayers in most political and power spectrums, to be a demotion. You proved everyone wrong. What was your initial response on taking charge of a ministry the workings of which you had no prior experience?
Chaudhry Fawad Hussain: I remember that a month and a half before it happened [April 18, 2019] I knew that my removal as the minister of information was imminent. Somehow, it didn’t happen. I thought that things had settled down, and perhaps I wouldn’t be removed from my position. But then suddenly I was notified to choose another ministry. I was given the choices of ministries of civil aviation and narcotics control, among others.
As for selecting the ministry of science and technology (MoST), I tried to assess which ministry was almost fully dormant but had great potential. After much deliberation I reached the conclusion that MoST had tremendous untapped potential. That is the principal reason for me choosing this ministry.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you took reins of a ministry that despite its tremendous importance did not have much governmental and public attention?
The biggest challenge that I faced when I took over MoST… The ministry has 17 departments, out of which three are universities. There was no ministry, actually. Out of the 17, 11 did not even have heads [of departments]. The rest of them were in dire straits, too. Other than the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad that was being properly administered, most of the other departments were in an awful condition. In fact, there were no departments. And therefore, we had to start everything from scratch.
Despite having no background in science and technology how did you manage to turn the ministry almost 180 degrees in so short a time?
Well, you see, I am a lawyer and a politician. We, lawyers and politicians, are trained to identify the key issues, and then build our case and narrative on those strategic points. When we receive a file the first thing that we check is the substance [of the case or issue] and what our goal is. That is the kind of training lawyers and politicians have. There is a widespread misconception that scientists should run science ministries. Scientists do not have the tools to run a ministry. Globally, they are not given charge of ministries; they are given tasks. Ministries mostly go to politicians.
The added advantage is that if you are a lawyer you have the basic training of identification of main areas and finding the best solutions. I applied my training in MoST. I figured out the biggest issues. I’m also a brand man. [Having worked as information minister and being familiar with the dynamics of media] I know how to build a brand. I ascertained the controversial areas.
Like the Ruet-e-Hilal [a committee of government of Pakistan for announcement of the sighting of the new moon] subject, it was an issue particularly close to a common man’s heart. We try to identify areas that are connected to the wishes and wellbeing of the aam aadmi, and then work on them.
What was the first major milestone of MoST that you and your team were proud of as being of huge utility to millions of Pakistanis?
The first milestone I would say was the resolving of the Ruet-e-Hilal issue. Moon-sighting matter solved, Eid was celebrated on one date throughout Pakistan [as opposed to on successive days in various parts of Pakistan, a phenomenon in practice for decades], and for once, no controversy took place. I think that was a big achievement as our first milestone.
The second big milestone has taken place during the pandemic. On February 26, 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was detected in Pakistan, we were not manufacturing [COVID-19 treatment and precaution materials] anything locally. But within four months, our initiatives bore fruit, and we became one of the major exporters of all COVID related material. We even started to manufacture ventilators.
After the onset of COVID-19 in Pakistan we have been able to create an entirely new healthcare sector here. As we began to manufacture electromagnetic machines, such as ventilators and dialysis machines, and other medical materials including stents, we have launched a healthcare sector in Pakistan that was hitherto non-existent. Another big scale industry that we have introduced in Pakistan is that of electric vehicles.
Two huge industries the launching of which was considered to be inconceivable in Pakistan before I took over the reins of MoST.
Please highlight a few projects that are currently underway in your ministry.
The first thing that we have done is to change the vision. The hardcore research that used to be the responsibility of MoST, I have assigned it to the Higher Education Commission. Our job is to utilise applied research in the sector of exports, imports replacement, and development of human resource–three areas that we are mainly focused on at MoST. In our projects our focus is on three key areas: electronics, chemicals and precision agriculture.
In electronics, we are working on developing the deception technology, one area is that of drones. Civil, agriculture and police surveillance drones, all of those will be manufactured in Pakistan.
In chemicals, we have learned, through a study, that 14 of our chemicals are 51 percent of our imports. We are working on their localisation.
Another major focus is on development of human resource. I wish to introduce a large scholarship for schoolchildren. This year I’m upgrading 450 government schools as STEM schools.
We are focusing on non-traditional agricultural methods. For example, we are working on hemp. It is a 20 billion-dollar market globally. For the first time in Pakistan, hemp has been legalised. Our ministry is issuing licences for the manufacture of Cannabidiol (CBD). We are also venturing into psychotropic substances.
Another area of interest of MoST is setting up of modern farms for cultivation of high-priced vegetables. These farms will be drone and sensors monitored. Modern farming is another important initiative of our ministry.
What are the challenges that MoST is currently faced with? What is the role of Prime Minister Imran Khan in elimination or lessening of those challenges?
Prime Minister Khan is highly focused on the work of MoST. When I took charge of the ministry in 2019, the total budget was 18 billion rupees. In 2021 the budget is 142 billion rupees. That wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the prime minister. All of our projects are underway because of his constant encouragement.
Our biggest challenge is the scarcity of human resource. Secondly, it’s the courts. In Pakistan, technology is not widely understood, and at times, ludicrous judgments are passed. Because of that some major international companies do not have confidence [to invest] in Pakistan. Unless the international giants make investments in Pakistan, we won’t be able to leapfrog in technology. On one hand, we need to create our own companies, and on the other, we need the global giants to invest in Pakistan. Right now, the policy of “ban”, which is sometimes the doing of the government but is mostly by the courts is a big policy challenge.
Coordination between different ministries is another huge challenge. Unless the ministries of science and technology, information technology, education, and defence put forth a unified effort, the results wouldn’t be 100 percent.
We also face the challenge of funding for building human resource. But even funding is not that big a deal. It is the lack of coordination between ministries, paucity of human resource, and the overall structure that are the most difficult challenges. We have tried to upgrade the ministry, but there are still so many bureaucratic hurdles that are very difficult to surmount. But we won’t give up until all of them are removed.