Pakistan has experienced an explosive growth of IT
during the last couple of years. Unfortunately, this has failed to
benefit the country in a significant way due to bursting of the balloon
in the post 9/11 world which witnessed drastic reduction in enrollment
at the IT institutes of all colours and shades at all levels be it
certificate, diploma or degrees.
Despite the slowdown the country still sits on
ton-loads of IT prowess: There were some 1.8 million computer literate
people in 2000 the number of which has crossed the 10 million mark
today. The number of Internet users has also registered over 40-fold
growth increasing from just 130,000 in June 2000 to 5.4 million October
last year. The bandwidth availability has also registered a 20-fold
increase from just 32 Mb/s in October 2000 to 610 Mb/s in August last
The other telecom enablers such as use of cellular
phone has also witnessed a similar explosive growth. The number of cell
phone subscribers has registered an 11-fold increase from just 225,000
in January 2001 to 2.45 million in October 2003. The financial sector
has also realised on the importance of electronic banking to not only
help them cut costs associated with manual banking but also to provide
non-stop service through the ATMs. The use of credit, ATM and credit
cards have witnessed a sharp increase.
In short, all the enablers and facilitators are in
place to help transform Pakistan into an electronic society. This,
however, is more true in theory than in practise because Pakistan still
primary remains much a cash-based society because the IT revolution has
failed to benefit the major portion of the population the larger part of
which live in the rural areas. The technological advancements have
remained limited to the major urban centres.
Pakistan's economic potential is marred by poor human
development indicators which is reflected in its budgets which allocated
negligible funds to education, health and welfare. The most salient
feature of the country's budget, with a little change lately, has been
massive monies allocated for debt servicing and Defence over the years.
Development and socio-economic projects had not been given the priority
they deserved while the burden of taxes has constantly been shifted on a
populace already reeling from low per capita income.
With the reduced opportunities outside Pakistan has
to find ways to absorb the huge computer-literate force of 1 million,
only a small portion of which is able to find gainful employment. This
is necessary not only for reasons of economics but also for reasons that
are social. Despite the growth, much remains to be done to transform the
country to exploit the IT potential to the fullest.
Where can we start? Perhaps e-readiness because it
comprises the entire IT and telecom sector. More so, because Pakistan
ranks the lowest in e-readiness among 16 countries in the region-lower
than even Vietnam, ranked number 15 in 2003. Pakistan's overall scored
2.74 points out of total ten compared to Vietnam's 2.91, Indonesia's
3.31, India's 3.95 (ranked 11th) way below the top ranked Australia at
The low overall e-readiness is based on scores in a
number of categories which were also low for Pakistan. For instance, it
scored 5.3 points in 'business environment' category compared to 6.9 by
the top ranked Thailand and 6.1 per cent by third-ranked Sri Lanka.
Similarly, in the 'legal and policy adoption' category Pakistan scored
2.5 points compared to India's 4.5 and Ecuador's 5.3 points. In the
'supporting e-services' category the country scored 2.8 points compared
to India's 5.8 and Egypt's 5. In the 'social and cultural' category,
Pakistan scored 2.5 points way below Saudi Arabia's 5.5 and India's 4.8.
The above figures highlight the importance of
improving the overall e-readiness level which comprises categories which
are no limited to telecom and other technological enablers and
facilitators like business environment. The availability of the massive
computer-literate human resources offers Pakistan unique opportunities
to help develop the infrastructure needed to promote the digital culture
in the country.
Despite a late starter, Pakistan has been able to
excel in various fields of IT including software development which
showed signs of great promises in the pre 9/11 period. The things have
started to pick up again and e-commerce is still termed as the ultimate
trading tool of the world in the years to come. According to an
estimate, by 2006 e-commerce would account for 18 per cent of the global
sales. The volume of e-commerce would touch over 12.837 trillion dollars
the major portion of $ 12.275 trillion was dominated by B2B while the
remaining $ 562 billion would be contributed by B2C.
Heavy figures indeed! The question is: do we have any
plans to derive any benefit from it? While the major beneficiaries of
the tremendous e-commerce sales would be the developed countries a
portion of which totaling around $ 963 billion would also benefit the
developing countries, many of which are located in Asia and Asia
Pacific. It is obvious that without concrete planning and policies we
would miss the bus yet again.