The low overall e-readiness is based on scores in a number of categories which were also low for Pakistan

Apr 26 - May 09, 2004





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 year.

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 8.25 points.

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.