It took US President Donald Trump 18 months to announce a science advisor. In contrast, Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, is widely expected to appoint a science minister in the early stages of his administration. This will be a welcome step: scientific expertise will be essential in shaping the future of the country. But whoever it is, it will have to fight with its hands to ensure that inclusive and evidence-based advice remains in place.

Khan has come to the office promising nothing but business as usual. In an echo of America’s New Deal and the first European governments since World War II, he promised a welfare state, affordable health care, school reform, reform in agriculture (the backbone of the economy), and an ax for the public sector. is. Corruption.

To do all this, his government would need medical researchers and health care experts to advise on the National Health Service’s plans; Elementary- and secondary-school academics to figure out how to get every child into a good school; and science and innovation policy experts to guide academic researchers on the path to quality improvement and better community engagement.

Khan has said time and again that he will hire the best people into top jobs. On that score, however, his ministerial team of most political appointments has received mixed reviews. New ministers in particular do not have an extensive and credible network of experts.

There is a dearth of people – and women in particular – from high-level academic and other professional backgrounds engaged in policy making. Khan knows this and has appealed for help. So far, the calls have been heeded exclusively by economists, as evidenced by the prime minister’s 18-member Economic Advisory Council – albeit all male.

But an impediment to gaining expertise is the state’s persistent failure to combat growing intolerance, especially against minorities. In a backward move, Khan last week bowed to the will of the TLP, a far-right political party that garnered more than 2 million votes in July’s elections, and removed Princeton University economist Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council.

Mian’s nomination was challenged by the TLP only because he belongs to Ahmadiyyas, a highly persecuted minority Muslim community. Mian is highly respected and his dismissal has been widely condemned; The other two international members of the council resigned in protest.

The move signals Khan’s reluctance to hire advisers who can speak truth to power – and could have a broad, chilling effect. This would make other independent experts think twice about joining Khan’s issue or advocating for important but unpopular reforms.

The new government has met the expectations with a list of functions on which life depends. For example, one of Pakistan’s most pressing challenges is improving the availability and quality of water. Agriculture uses 90% of the supply, but a population of 200 million – and growing – means the country is officially classified as ‘water scarce’.

Climate change is projected to further reduce water availability, and poor water quality is a major source of disease. In response, the government wants to build more dams, but the expert consensus is that the costs of dams outweigh the benefits, and so other solutions should be sought.

Will that kind of expertise be listened to and will Pakistan lead the way? Right now, citizens at home – and many in the international community – are keen to make Imran Khan’s nation-building project a success. As a star cricketer, Khan once described his playing style as that of a corner tiger. He needs to muster up this great courage and overcome the bigotry; Otherwise, whatever goodwill they have towards their government, it will vanish very fast indeed.

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