WE sure have come a long way from the bad old days of ‘go Baba go’ slogans in parliament to the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s acquisition of our very own Daraz.com. For those of us whose introduction to the World Wide Web was through a baba of another kind, this is a truly positive development, with much economic potential.
We don’t tire of reminding ourselves that we are a young nation with a huge segment poised to enter the job market and with an equally large chunk getting ready to join the workforce. While economists will argue that growth without jobs is possible, there is no way to keep two million youngsters, who become eligible for work every year, out of trouble without giving them opportunities for employment.
In a world of less government controls on public expenditure, no government can provide jobs to everyone. Since growth is supposed to be private sector-led, it is imperative that both federal and provincial policies are business-friendly, geared towards private-public partnership and aimed at entrepreneurship instead of turning state-owned enterprises into employment exchanges for party cadres.
It is encouraging to note that provinces are setting up technology incubation centres; some are also enabling the youth to access seed money for startups. However, the private sector’s presence in the field of venture capital and angel funds is negligible if not outright disappointing. The Daraz success story is underwritten by Germany’s Rocket Internet. Nothing wrong, but one would want our rocket-scientist investors to think beyond manipulating the stock market and launching golf cities in water-scarce towns.
We need to create our own versions of Alibaba.
The jamborees held in the provinces in the name of information technology events too need to show more for the millions of dollars they get the foreign donors to spend on them. More often than not, these are eyewash events for party leaders, floating from one gala to another amid the tumultuous applause of party workers and adulating hordes of diplomats and donors. There is no information as to how many startups come up as a result of these events. How many ideas attract crowdsourcing? How many jobs were created? So far it has sadly been a case of ‘he came, she saw, some danced, and they went away’.
Without getting into the merits and demerits of impulsive spending that comes with the turf, the numbers — running into billions of rupees on a single day, our version of Black Friday — associated with e-commerce are encouraging. And this while it is still mostly cash-on-delivery mode of payment. Imagine what the scale could be and the expansion and jobs to go with it, if e-payments through credit/debit cards were made easier/safer.
This leads one to ask, what are the regulators and enablers in promotion this and promotion that bureaus doing? What are the tech developers in the private sector, unburdened by the public-sector bureaucracy up to? Why are these payment gateways so difficult to create and run that we cannot switch to more e-payments? What needs to happen for more mobile payments penetration in Pakistan? Are stakeholders like the Pakistan Software Houses Association, National Information Technology Board and its provincial variants, the Board of Investment, Pakistan Software Export Board, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry even talking to each other to boost e-commerce and a knowledge-based economy?
We need to come together to help create our own versions of Alibaba if we do not want our streets to throw up another Baba Ladla.
Though the literature on the National Counter Terrorism Authority website pays scant attention to the political economy of militancy and the confluence of extremism and organised crime, a more tenacious read of sub-sections like the ‘National Counter Extremism Policy Guidelines’ does make passing references eg “it is clear that over the past seventy years material progress and economic development leading to employment opportunities in the tribal areas, large parts of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have remained well below those available in the more developed areas of the country” and “in the less developed parts of the country, private-sector investment is not readily forthcoming”.
Similarly, under the ‘Strategic Planning’ section, the same document notes the importance of employment generation everywhere in the country through education, particularly through vocational and technical training.
The fight against extremism and militancy, and socioeconomic progress need not present a chicken and egg conundrum. They can go hand in hand. All citizens need to feel they have a stake in the system and a fair chance of getting ahead in life through hard work and innovation.
Alas! For now, the public imagination seems to have been captured more by the ladla debate and ‘Baba Rehmat’ than Alibaba and jobs.
The author is a poet and analyst.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2018