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Information Technology
Future & Infrastructure

 

Column
For the record
Profile
Arifuddin Ahmed
Education
The problems of private schools
AMI — Iqra University
Information Technology
Pakistan's role in the battle of The Bug
Future and infrastructure

By Muhammad Zubair Ahmad
May 29 - June 04, 2000

Pakistan at the time of its inception in 1947 owned a meager telecom base with just 7000 telephone lines. Telecom service was meant just to meet the needs of country administration. The year 1962 saw the first sector change when establishing independent T&T and Postal Departments separated Post Telegraph & Telephone services. Since the mid-1980s, a number of countries including Pakistan overhauled telecommunications sector, to arrange mobilize additional capital, improve performance of operating enterprises and respond to rapidly growing pressures for more varied services. The pace and scope of sector reforms has varied considerably in South, Latin America and Asia. A number of countries opted to privatize their telephone entities.

In the Far East (early 1990s) there have been initiatives on partial privatization (Thailand & Malaysia etc) including liberalization of non-basic services. The results achieved were found to be beneficial. This brought the wave of change in South Asia also.

To begin, Pakistan in 1990 also started taking gradual sectors reform measures within the existing legal and regulatory framework. In line with emerging trends, private sector participation and deregulation initiatives were taken between 1989-91. Since 1991 the Ministry of Communications started granting operating licenses also for data and Internet services and removed controls on telecom terminal equipment manufacturing. This trend is still continuing. Private sector is encouraged in the sector development including some new telephony services, either through licensing or by outsourcing. In 1995 one of the major milestone was achieved (in restructuring the sector) by introducing the new legal framework in the form of Pakistan Telecommunication (Reorganization) Ordinance, which was later enacted by the Parliament with some amendments as an Act in October 1996.

Today, this new Law is governing the telecommunication sector in Pakistan.

Pakistan—land of opportunity: A lot more than innovation is required for the creation of a truly impressive computer software industry.

The expertise to transform these ideas into working realities must be there, as should be the ability to come up with customized solutions to peculiar problems and needs. Add to that a modern telecom network to support this highly demanding sector and you have the perfect breeding grounds for a software industry. You have Pakistan.

It has everything you may need. A modern and rapidly expanding communication network, top notch experts, highly skilled and economical workforce. All this backed by an unmatched investment package. Already Pakistan based Software Houses and Companies are making an impact in the world of Computer Software. And it's only natural because Pakistan offers the unbeatable combination of top quality expertise at an economical cost.

Pakistan software export board: Spearheading this IT push is the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), set up by the Government of Pakistan in July 1995. It's charter is to ensure development and implementation of a national policy framework for software and related services industry in Pakistan.

The prime moving factors behind the software initiative 4 are all part of a critical mass that led to the formation of this Board. These factors are:

•Liberal foreign investment environment and market based economic policies of the Government;

•A grass root level computer literacy program in the country that will ensure continued supply of a computer literate workforce;

•Demonstrated ability to successfully execute sizeable offshore software development projects by Pakistani IT companies;

•Availability of modern data communication facilities, domestic as well as international, in the private sector;

•Availability of cutting edge computer hardware and software development tools in Pakistan;

•Low initial cost of starting up software business;

•A general global upswing in the value of intellectual capital assets.

Software policy framework: The major component of the Software Policy Framework of the Government of Pakistan is the formation of the PSEB as a One-Stop-Shop to cater to all business needs of a software start-up. Software Technology Parks scheme, an incentive package with a list of fiscal and corporate incentives; regulatory framework, including intellectual property issues. This policy framework is aimed at providing an attractive environment for the development of the software industry in Pakistan with participation of domestic and international corporations and is expected to make software development one of Pakistan's major economic activities.

Telecommunication infrastructure: Pakistan's burgeoning computer software industry is complemented by the presence of a modem telecommunication's network which is being constantly expanded and improved upon. Data communication is now, deregulated with major service providers in the private sector. Licenses have already issued to private companies to start data services while a whole range of other facilities / services are there for the private sector's taking.

•International High Speed circuits

•Domestic Fiber Optic back-bone

•More than 600 direct dialing stations

•Toll free numbers and UAN facility available

•Mobile communications

•E-mail, Audio text, Voice mail etc.

The maturing software market: Pakistan's software market has reached the variety and depth of developed markets, and software has been instrumental in improving efficiency, quality control and statistical analyses for increased profitability. Locally developed software confirms to international standards and operates on any modem platform and caters to production discipline, process control, procurement, warehousing, personnel management, inventory management, sales and marketing, plant maintenance, accounting and securities management systems. The contributions of the above systems for improving efficiency and profitability has been significant and majority of industries have benefited from extensive computerization.

Banks & financial institutions: The Government's bold and liberal economic policies have resulted in active private sector participation in the financial sector.

A large number of foreign and local private banks and financial institutions have emerged, facilitating trade as commerce in the country.

IT in Ministry of Science & Technology: The Government of Pakistan has taken steps including separation of telecommunication from the Ministry of Communication, setting-up IT Division and its convergence with Ministry of Science and Technology. Mr. Javed Jabbar, Advisor to Chief Executive for Information and Media Development, and National Affairs, said, the Government recognises importance of the convergence of Information Technologies have for Pakistan. While access to IT, empowers citizens, it also has an enslavement aspect. We should make sure that citizens do not becomes slaves. He hoped that the law, civil society, the press and the electronic media would act as guardians of public interest .

An important question: At a briefing in Islamabad on 25 February 2000, the Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) of UN Development Program, discussion took place on use of the Internet in developing countries for poverty alleviation, improved access to healthcare, education, and a more sustainable and equitable use of resources, environment protection and strengthened participation in decision making processes. All participants agreed on the need for access to information for NGOs, academic and national businesses, who can play a key role in development issues.

SDPN was developed in 1988 when key problem was to provide timely access to adequate information sources for policy and decision makers in developing countries. It was the first to introduce e-mail in Pakistan. At present SDPN's aim is to encourage full Internet connectivity for the widest range of users. It is developing its meta website that will act as a repository of development related information about Pakistan culled from global sources.

The writer is Coordinator, Computer Science Department, Asian Management Instituted—Iqra University