The typical discourse about Pakistan generally revolves around it being a land of dominating mountains, mighty rivers and friendly people. But what is missing from this discourse is the fact that Pakistan is also a land of countless untapped opportunities and a large human capital base that is exceptionally hardworking.
Talking about opportunities, it would be unfair not to mention the country’s rapidly emerging Information Technology (IT) industry. The trend seems to be changing for the better as both the public and private sectors have combined their efforts to introduce Pakistan to a new age of seamless connectivity. But is it possible for the country to achieve greatness in the IT sector without the help of foreign investment? The answer is in the negative, but fortunately, help is already on way.
In the past two years, Pakistan’s security forces have led an uncompromising crackdown on militants and criminals in the country’s largest city, Karachi. Meanwhile, terrorist strongholds were also targeted simultaneously in the northern tribal territories which helped pacify the relentless cycle of violence being experienced by the country for almost a decade.
Technology has proved quite helpful in enhancing the performance of Pakistan’s security apparatus against repressive internal and external forces. Previously, failure to integrate technology in different revenue generating sectors of Pakistan pushed the country back and left a void that is gradually being filled by the country’s new IT revolution.
Getting the gadgetry
The Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) and Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) are fully aware of the need to market Pakistan as an attractive future IT investment hub.
The country’s IT sector has undergone a swift transformation in the past decade and the results speak volumes about its success. According to a report released by State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s telecom sector attracted around $126.9 million Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) during the period from July 2014 to May 2015.
Further, overall telecom imports also rose by 10.37% in 2015 compared with 2014. Per Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, mobile phone imports in the country increased by 15.86% in 2015 as compared to 2014, while total imports rose to $653 million from the previous mark of $564.293 million.
The report also said that telecommunication companies are contemplating an increase in their product ranges for consumers with the introduction of 3G and 4G mobile technology. Telecommunication companies have also started upgrading their systems and networks to support continuous growth in the IT sector.
Thriving startup culture
Pakistan is also home to an exceptional IT talent pool that has enabled it to support a thriving startup culture. The country’s IT exports crossed the $2 billion mark ($2.8 billion) in 2015 by registering an annual growth rate of 41%. Local startups also managed to attract over $40 million in funding in 2015.
The startup culture in Pakistan has provided the ideal base for experts to churns out hundreds of apps and software on an annual basis. The rise of online portals in the country is an essential link in this long chain of IT related activities that has strengthened the local tech market to a great extent. For instance, Pakistanis can now search for jobs on Rozee.pk with a swipe of their finger, or buy a dream house by logging in to Zameen.com (Pakistan’s largest online property portal).
Large mobile service subscriber base
Another reason why foreign companies are and will continue investing in Pakistan’s IT sector is that almost 20 million Pakistanis are using 3G/4G telecom technology which provided a much needed boost to the country’s IT sector.
The number of active subscriber identification module (SIM) in Pakistan increased by 1.6 million to touch the 122.595 million mark at the end of October 2015. Of these, 111.5 million SIMs have been verified through Biometric Verification System (BVS).
Digitizing police force and vehicle operations
The ‘thana’ culture that has taken firm roots in the Pakistani society is currently undergoing transformation after integration of IT in the police operations.
Recently, Punjab Police established fully-operational and equipped operation rooms that come complete with TV screens that transmit real time surveillance footage from CCTV cameras and police patrol cars. Data is accumulated and complaints are monitored to keep crime levels under control.
This initiative will streamline the activities of the police and prove helpful to the public in registering their complaints with ease. In addition to this, police and excise officers across Punjab have now been provided with latest equipment to verify ownership data of vehicles with their smartphones.
Foreign investment in Pakistan’s IT sector
Recently, Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) signed a strategic memorandum of understanding with ZTE Corporation for setting up a Joint Innovation Center (JIC) in Pakistan. The JIC is an important step taken by PTCL and ZTE for Smart TV development, while enabling PTCL to provide high-quality video services to customers on TV and mobile devices.
Besides, the flow of foreign investment in Pakistan’s IT sector is showing improvement. Recently, the government engaged countries like China, Sri Lanka and Malaysia to help the South Asian nation to make solid progress on the technological front.
In another recent development, officials from Pakistan and South Korea held a meeting with the aim of launching a free trade agreement to utilize each other’s talent in different sectors of the economy, especially in the field of IT. For this purpose Seoul increased its contributions to the economic development cooperation fund from $180 million to $500 million which will be diverted towards establishing an information and communications technology park (ICT) in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
Another example of high-level investment in Pakistan’s IT sector is inextricably linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) where a specific cut of the entire project fund will be used to establish technology parks at various locations in the country. The first step in this direction is the Pak-China Science, Technology, Commerce and Logistic Park which will also be established in Islamabad at a cost of $1.5 billion.
Other important IT related projects undertaken by the Pakistani government include Information Technology University, Arfa Software Technology Park, and Punjab Information Technology Board’s startup initiative, named Plan 9. More projects will follow suit in the future.
All’s well for now
The performance of Pakistan’s revenue generating sectors after integration of IT has been closely observed by local and foreign investors. The country’s purposeful use of technology in running the affairs of the state have been noticed by investors who are showing a willingness to invest in Pakistan’s technology-based projects.
The enormous talent and human resources that Pakistan possesses can easily catapult it further to a position where foreign IT companies will be more willing to utilize the strengths of a skilled pool of local technology professionals.
Here’s to another year of technological advancement.