BALOCHISTAN PRESENTS A GLOOMY PICTURE
Dec 10 - 16, 2007
We are living in a digital age. The advancement in telecommunications and Information Technology (IT) has not only globalized the world economies but also created a digital divide in the world. Last year, the total IT industry revenue of Pakistan crossed US$2 billion and total exports crossed US$1 billion. The domestic market has grown at 33% per year. Similarly, Pakistan has become a hub of activity for international and local telecom companies and unprecedented amount of foreign investment flowed into the telecom sector during last three years.
Though Pakistan is now on the world IT map and a high-growth telecom market, yet its largest province of Balochistan still presents a gloomy picture of deprivation and underdevelopment in the present digital era. The province seems at the crossroad finding a way out from the underdevelopment trap and stagnancy of its natural resources. The local youth are still deprived of the opportunities and facilities, which are necessary to make development in any field of science and technology. The province's human and material resources remained unutilized or underutilized. The people of the province are technologically backward.
Territorially the largest, economically the least developed, socially the most backward and demographically the least populous and sparsely populated; province of Balochistan has ever remained on the political periphery of the country. On the other hand, being strategically located in the region and having vast untapped natural resources, diversity of climate, simultaneously five ecological zones, fisheries and strategic mineral resources like natural gas, copper, lead, zinc, iron and marble; it has the potential to emerge as Pakistan's new economic frontier.
So far as IT sector is concerned, Balochistan lacks the IT infrastructure and the skilled and qualified persons to develop IT sector in the province. There is no industry, hence the skilled IT professionals move towards other provinces preferably to Karachi and Lahore. IT industry needs to be developed and consolidated in the province. There are at least six private IT firms operating in Quetta. These include Innovative Information Technologies (IT), Active Communications, Pearl Institute of Information Technology, Matrix Informatics and Origin Enterprises. The scarcity of revenue and absence of venture capital are the main issues, which should be resolved by allocating more funds for consolidation of local IT industry in Balochistan.
The government is not taking serious initiative to use the skill of local IT professionals. The skill of IT professionals can not be used without developing and strengthening the local IT industry. In this regard, the government can play a significant role by encouraging the local IT firms. It can allocate more funds for setting up software houses in the province It can help the local IT companies build their trade record and place them in the national and international IT market. The local companies need a healing touch from the government. If awarding contracts accommodates them, it will help them build their record and play significant role in griping a market for Balochistan, both nationally and internationally. The lack of encouragement of local IT professionals has been an important factor that could not promote the IT environment in the province. Steps should also be taken for imparting IT education in Balochistan at school level by setting up computer laboratories. The Federal government and the province should equally share the expenditure.
In Balochistan, the level of development in telecommunication can be measured through teledensity or in terms of telecommunication penetration. The province still lags behind other provinces in cellular or fixed line teledensity. Last year, the teledensity increased to 10.47 per cent in the province. According to an estimate, the province has a total of 11,367 payphones which include both fixed and wireless payphones. More than 150 locations are having internet access across the province and there are at least seven Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Mobile sector is the main contributor to the teledensity in the province with a share of more than 8.05 per cent. Last year, the fixed line subscribers in the province have dropped by 5 per cent, as the people are substituting fixed line with Wireless Local Loop (WLL) and mobile services in Balochistan. The number of mobile subscribers has increased many times compared to 112,290 in 2004. The province has the presence of all mobile operators with Mobilink having maximum coverage in nearly two dozen cities.
Balochistan has a difficult terrain and a scattered population. The development of telecom poses hard challenges, which include less affordability and non-availability of electricity and lack of infrastructure. Geographical, social and demographic constraints have increased the cost of doing business in the province. The private firms do not consider the far flung areas of the province as commercially viable for launching their services.
Government should take initiatives for laying fibre optic in all the districts of the province, as a modern, reliable and sound telecommunications infrastructure also provides a boost to the economic activities in a region. According to an estimate, over half of the population in Balochistan has no access to either mobile or wireless or fixed line networks.
It is highly important to develop human resources and to open up the province for economic activities and foreign investment. It is the educational backwardness that has given rise to negative perceptions over the ongoing development process and provided the opportunists in politics with a chance to exploit the people" apprehensions and reservations about the Mega projects currently in execution stage in the province.
Telecom and IT are the two important sectors, which should be developed to bring the people of the province into a digital era. Only education can revolutionize the social attitudes, economic trends and political mindsets in Balochistan. The IT professionals in the province can guide the young entrepreneurs in solving their day-to-day problems and inform them the latest trends in IT especially in E-Commerce domain to answer all questions emerging due to dynamic change in IT and also suggest possible solutions to cope with emerging issues.