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New strategy for software exports

Country has attracted local and foreign investment in this regard

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi,
Apr 30 - May 06, 2001

Dr. Atta ur Rehman, Minister for Science and Technology, has said that the government has fixed a target of achieving US dollars one billion in software export by the year 2005.

Briefing newsmen on the major achievements of his ministry during the past one year at a news conference on Monday, the minister said that presently the export of software was in the range of 30 to 40 million dollars and the government was determined to increase it by over two hundred per cent per year. The Minister admitted that Pakistan lagged behind in the international IT race and, therefore, implementing a well thought-out and structured strategy to bring Pakistan on to the digital map of the world was among its top priority. In this regard, Dr. Atta said the government has taken a number of steps to achieve the set target in IT like the establishment of business offices and incubators in San Francisco, New York, London. Tokyo and Sydney. He said that such business offices and incubators were already functioning in Singapore.

Dr. Atta disclosed that the Pakistan Software Export Board was being restructured in consultation with the private sector stakeholders and said that as an incentive software exporters would be allowed to retain 35% of their earnings in foreign exchange accounts.

He said that the response to government strides to achieve IT excellence has been overwhelming and country has attracted local and foreign investment in this regard. The internationally recognised names like those of IBM, Sun Microsoft etc have already set their foot on Pakistani soil while numerous others are following suit to start operating in Pakistan. The government has already signed MoUs worth US $ 300 million while another 200 million dollars business is expected in view of the keen interest shown by the foreign participants of ITC exhibition recently held in Karachi. All these indicators point to a healthy growth of IT industry in Pakistan which has resulted in a considerable generation of employment within the IT industry and its allied sectors, he emphatically stated.

Giving details about the Human Resource Development programmes, the minister said that 700 Ph. Ds would be produced both locally and abroad at a total cost of Rs. 2 billion and added that 17 S&T institutions would be strengthened and upgraded to international standards at a cost of Rs. 500 million.

In order to ensure that S&T contributes significantly to economic development, a comprehensive S&T for economic development programme has been launched, Dr. Atta said and added that the objective under the programme is not to reinvent the wheel, but to select reasonably mature technologies and adopt and upgrade those to rapid commercialisation.

Some of the projects being undertaken include training of ten thousand data entry operators, training in medical transcriptions JAVA programme, Internet working, retraining of public service professionals and scholarships and Qarz-e-Hasna for IT Human Resources Development. An important aspect of IT policy and action plan is institutional capacity building aimed at producing over one lac IT trained workforce. He said a virtual IT University for distance learning based at Lahore with campuses in all the four provinces and Azad Kashmir has been approved. By October this year, a public sector digital new TV channel will be launched for the promotion of IT and science and technology.

Regarding the achievements in the field of science and technology, he said so far 59 programmes costing 3.6 billion rupees have been launched in the field of human resource development, institutional strengthening of R&D organisations and universities. An allocation of one billion rupees have been made to strengthen science faculties of the 25 public sector universities of the country. Each university will get 40 million rupees for this purpose.

Coming in the midst of still gloomy atmosphere on the economic scene numerous strides made in the field of information technology under the dynamic leadership of Dr Atta-ur-Rehman is indeed a pleasant surprise. We entered in this field almost ten years late then by India but the fast speed with which we are moving ahead provides credence to the claim that we will catch up with India in the next 3 years. The overall spectacle of glittering progress, emanating from the enabling initiatives of the government and positive response of the private enterprise, has provided convincing evidence of Pakistan catching up fast with the ongoing IT revolution in the World. ITCN Asia 2000 held jointly by the IT giant (Commerce Net) of Singapore, Pakistan Ministry of Science & Technology and Sindh IT Board was a super example of the same. There could be no better proof of this than the participation of around 30 countries and recognized IT giants like IBM, Intel, Cisco, Acer, Microsoft and Compaq, in the big show.

It will thus be seen that the country's first ever Rs. 5 billion Information Technology (IT) Policy and Action Plan that Science and Technology Minister Dr Ata-ur-Rehman unfolded last August, has started showing the desired results. A well-conceived and methodically planned effort from the government, though belated, the policy has provided a big fillip to IT development in Pakistan.