The present government is striving to improve its citizens’ quality of life and economic well-being by ensuring availability of accessible, affordable, reliable, universal and high-quality Information and Telecommunications Technology (ICT) services. It believes in mass adoption of emerging digital technologies and innovative applications to enable cross-sector socio-economic development and transformation of economic activities, governance models, social interaction, and achievement of sustainable development goals. It was in this backdrop that Digital Pakistan Policy was announced. The aim is to make Pakistan more digitally inclusive and use technology for the greater public good. Based on five strategic pillars (which include access and connectivity, digital infrastructure, e-government, digital skilling and literacy, innovation and entrepreneurship), the initiative marks a milestone in the journey towards creating a digital ecosystem. Key policy objectives are as under:
- Holistic digital strategy
- Sectoral digitalization
- Enhancement in current market size of electronic and mobile commerce
- Youth/Women/Girls’ empowerment
- Promotion of innovation, entrepreneurship, start ups and incubators in IT sector
- Increase in IT exports and remittances
- Improvement in ICT ranking of Pakistan
- Digital inclusion through development if IT zones, technology parks and telecenters
- Increase foreign and domestic investment
- Reduction in barriers for disabled persons
- Coordination and support of standardization efforts
One of the main elements of this strategy is to increase the digital capacity. A few important projects worth over Rs160 billion to help Pakistan transition to a knowledge economy have been initiated that are in different phases of approval, in respective ministries and the Planning Commission. They cover key areas like Artificial Intelligence and Allied Technologies, modern materials, and biotechnology. Several proposed policy interventions for ease of doing business, establishment of a venture fund ‘Jiddat’, startup & R&D grants, incubators on the model of Plan-9 in different regions close to key industries of Pakistan for promoting meaningful entrepreneurship and innovation, establishment of a university and centers of excellence in key areas of technology are being implemented. These programs are meant to create a digital Pakistan and to create a strong ‘Made in Pakistan’ brand. An immediate success of this initiative has been the huge impact on tax collections which has already resulted in over Rs. 65 billion of additional revenue through mathematical algorithms developed by NADRA to identify low tax filers or non-tax filers.
As Pakistan is committing itself to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals 2030, digital technology has great potential to help Pakistan deliver these goals. Technology, if leveraged positively, can help achieve the benchmarks, which include ending poverty, hunger, and ensuring quality education, peace and justice and access to safe drinking water by 2030 (among others) to enable it to join the league of upper-middle-class countries. The smartphone, one of the symbolic technologies of digitalization, has already contributed greatly to achievements in the social and economic sphere. It has enabled improved access to information, more reliable communication, effective data collection in rural healthcare; it has facilitated banking in remote areas, and much more. Therefore, further digitalization of services can offer equal opportunities to the underprivileged sections of society for participation in the economy. For a developing nation like Pakistan, ICT specifically can drive the attainment of these goals by providing access to populations that have been deprived.
[box type=”note” align=”” class=”” width=””]The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and is a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan[/box]