Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Meaningful collaboration between academics from India and Pakistan?

by Salman Hameed

I hope so. Here is an excellent article by Pervez Hoodbhoy suggesting some practical steps between Pakistan and India following a surprising - may still be ephemeral - relative thawing of tensions between the two countries (I know one of our regular physician readers from Australia gets an apoplectic reaction on the mention of Hoodbhoy - so please be careful reading this post :) ). Pervez lists a few pragmatic ways to reduce the tensions, but I think the most relevant one is about the exchange of academics between the two countries:
Fifth: let them talk about exchanging academics, both teachers and students, between the two countries. Pakistan is starved of good teachers in almost every field, especially at the higher levels of education. The Higher Education Commission’s plan to bring in university teachers from overseas has flopped. A breakthrough is only possible if Indian teachers could be brought to Pakistan. Indians would find it easier to adapt to local ways and customs than others. Plus, they would have smaller salary expectations than most others. The huge pool of strong Indian candidates could be used to Pakistan’s advantage — we could pick the best teachers and researchers, and those most likely to make a positive impact on our system.
I know this is still very hard due to all the visa restrictions etc.  However, I think it will be very cool if there are more collaborative research projects as well as regular conferences/workshops across the border. This will also require a basic ease of travel restrictions, but perhaps it will be easier to get exceptions to scholars on a short visit. I know there have been other such exchanges before, but the uncertainty regarding visa can be a deterrent. In fact, astronomy can be one of the fruitful areas of collaboration. Amateur astronomy in Pakistan is booming and India has some world class researchers and facilities. It would be amazing to have a gathering of astronomers from the two countries at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune (On a more selfish level, it has been on my list of places to visit for a while). Astronomy is also ideal as it is an innocuous field with larger than Earth perspective. At the height of the cold war, there were also some collaboration between American and Soviet astronomers, and Carl Sagan co-wrote a book with Iosif Shklovsky in 1966!

Is there hope between Pakistan and India? May be.

Also see:
Learning from India's Learning Curve on Science
Pakistani Astronomers shine during the International Year of Astronomy

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh...what an honour. I am humbled...!
Some of my best friends down under are Indians. In fact, the further you are away from that inflammed border, the lesser are the differences...any leftover ones literally disappear in thin air on this last corner of Earth's landmass called Tasmania.
We at Karachi Astronomers Society do have good acquaintances in a well known astronomers club in Indian province of Gujarat (Kuth Amateur Astronomers Club). I recently considered proposing a combined astronomy event at the border town of Nagar Parker in Sindh as an icon of joint astronomy effort by the two countries if we can work out any security concerns. I may forward this proposal.
With the Siachen conflict in spotlight lately, I am sure of one thing...if NASA plans a manned mission to Triton in distant future (if India and Pakistan haven't nuked each other to extermination by then), they are likely to find pre-trained (or pre-mutated) astronauts among Indian and Pakistani troops stationed up at Siachen, to survive the frigid landscape of Triton. I am sure both countries can work together in this scenario at least.
(Dr. Hoodbhoy...hmmm!)