The renowned scholar, researcher, scientist and Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan passed away in Karachi early on Saturday. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.
The eminent educationist was suffering from cardiovascular disease and went to a private hospital for his dental checkup on Friday where his health deteriorated last night and later breathed his last in the wee hours of the Saturday morning.
Born on July 01, 1952, Dr Khan became the 17th vice chancellor of the public sector university in January 2017. His funeral prayers were offered at Jamia Masjid Ibrahim, KU, and later laid to rest in the KU Graveyard.
His funeral was attended by the Governor Sindh Imran Ismail, social activist and renowned singer Shahzad Roy, provincial education minister Syed Sardar Ali Shah, special assistants to the Chief Minister Sindh Waqar Mehdi and Rashid Rabbani, and Nabeel Zubari of Pakistan People Party, Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman, Syed Miraj ul Huda and Osama Razi of Jammat-e-Islami, Syed Faisal Subzwari and Syed Amin ul Haq of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan), Syed Mustafa Kamal of Pak Sarzamin Party, former KU VC Professor Dr Muhammad Qaiser, and ex-KU VC and current vice chancellor of Ziauddin University Professor Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, NED VC Professor Dr Sarosh Lodhi, VC Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Lyari, Professor Dr Akhtar Baloch, VC Sindh University Professor Dr Muhammad Barfat, VC Nazeer Hussain University Professor Dr Muhammad Ahmed Qadri, VC Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, Professor Dr Syed Altaf Hussain, VC Iqra University Waseem Qazi other noted political and social personalities as well as varsity’s Registrar and Controller of Examinations, members Syndicate, Senate, various head of the departments, large number of teaching and non teaching staff and students president of Unikarians International, Professor Ejaz Ahmed Faruqi and others.
Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan always said that he had accepted the post of the vice chancellor as a challenge. “I aim to turn the varsity into the top ones of the world. I am aware of the challenges faced by the university and do my best to resolve them.”
Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan was a noted Pakistani botanist and his teaching and research career spans over 44 years. For his outstanding services in plant sciences he had received numerous prestigious local and international awards including Presidential Award of Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2008.
He has also received Fellow of Fulbright Academy of Sciences and The World Innovation Foundation, Switzerland in 2006, HEC-Distinguished National Professor and Honor Professor, Shijiazhuang Institute for Agriculture Modernization, P.R. China in 2005, Fellow Third World Academy of Science in 2003, Fellow Pakistan Academy of Science and Presidential Award of the Pride of Performance in August in 2001.
Meanwhile, he was given the status of Meritorious Professor. He had also received title of Distinguished Scientist of the year 2008 in Botany as well as Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS), Fellow of Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), Fellow, Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Distinguished Visiting Professor, King Saud University, KSA and Qatar Shell Professorial Chair in Sustainable Development, Qatar University.
He was the recipient of Ohio University Teaching Assistantship (1980-1984); National Science Foundation, USA postdoctoral fellowship at Brigham Young University, USA (1984-1985); DAAD study visit to University of Munster, Germany (1994); Fulbright visiting scholar, Ohio University, USA (1995-1996) and Adjunct Professorship in the Brigham Young University, USA (1996-1997).
He was an elected member of Sigma Xi, USA, (1985), and Regular Associate member of Dr Abdus Salam International Center of Theoretical Physics, Italy (1990). During the year 2000 Dr Khan was awarded Pakistan Academy of Science and INFAQ Foundation joint gold medal (1999) in the field of Botany.
Based on Information Science Institute, Baltimore, USA Journal Citation Report, the Pakistan Council of Science and Technology had ranked him among the leading scientists of all disciplines.
Professor Muhammad Ajmal Khan was rated among top five biologists among the Islamic countries by COMSTECH. He was given the status of Honor Professor (Adjunct Professor), Shijiazhuang Institute for Agricultural Modernization, Hebei, China.
The salt tolerant plants (halophytes), physiology, biochemistry and ecophysiology; cash-crop halophytes was his research interest topics and through his research, he was engaged in development of varieties of halophytes for special uses, salt tolerance mechanisms, seed biology of halophytes.
During his teaching career, the subjects like physiological ecology of plants, plant ecology, plant population biology, seed biology and evolutionary ecology always get his attention.
Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan was awarded DSc, in Botany from University of Karachi, 2010, PhD in Physiological Ecology from Ohio University in 1985, MSc in Plant Physiology from Karachi University in 1974 and BSc (Hons) in Botany from KU in 1973. He did his intermediate from Jamia Millia College and matriculation also from a government school.
He started his career in 1975 as a Research Officer of Pakistan Science Foundation project in the Department of Botany, KU and later as a Lecturer in 1977, was appointed as Assistant Professor of Botany in 1985, Associate Professor of Botany in 1989, Professor of Botany in 1996, Director, Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization in 2007, Tenured Professor in 2011 and Meritorious Professor in 2012.
He was highest ranked botanists of Pakistan and served the University of Karachi as a regular faculty till 2012 and as a visiting Professor in several universities of China, Germany, Qatar, UK, and USA.
He was also the Chairman, Core Committee of International experts to rehabilitate coastal Sabkha in UAE by Environmental Agency, UAE and visiting Professor under Distinguished Scientist Fellowship Program, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
He also served as Scientific Advisor to Vice Chairperson, Qatar Foundation, Doha. Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan was also the Founding Director of the Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization (ISHU), KU.
In 2009, he became the first ever UNESCO Chair-holder in Sustainable Halophyte Utilization with ISHU as the global hub for supporting halophyte research. In 2012, he assumed the position of Qatar Shell Professorial Chair in Sustainable Development and Coordinator, Food Security Program at Qatar University. He was instrumental in creating the Centre for Sustainable Development, Qatar University and headed the food security program.
His group at ISHU has patented a non-conventional fodder crop for saline barren lands. A successful pilot project in Thar indicates that the successful implementation of this technology has the potential to make drought redundant.
Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan had also edited more than one dozen books and published 388 research papers with a cumulative impact factor more than 284; RG index of 40.26; h-index of 59 and i10-index of 253.
He had completed over 40 research projects on various aspects of salt tolerance in plants and had done pioneering work on mechanisms involving endogenous growth inhibitors under salt stress. The authenticity and uniqueness of his research has received wide acclaim from his peers and fellow researchers and his publications are repeatedly cited in papers from various corners of the world. The quality and impact of his research can be gauged by more than 20303 citations in international publications by peers in the field.
Besides his personal achievements, he had trained and motivated number of researchers to continue his legacy of scientific excellence towards ensuring food security for future generations.
After taking over as Vice Chancellor, University of Karachi during January 2017 he has been instrumental in bringing fundamental changes in admissions, examinations, security, recruitment, financial management and promoting research culture which has contributed in changing the direction and uplift of the university standards.
Meanwhile, the KU Administration has announced that all classes and exams scheduled on Sunday (today) have been postponed and new dates would be announced later. The schedule academic activities remain suspended on Saturday as well.
The KU is also holding a reference meeting at 10am at the Arts Auditorium on Monday which would be followed by Quran Khawani at Jamia Masjid Ibrahim, KU.