DIGITAL technology is reshaping the world rapidly. It is transforming everything — from the way governments and citizens interact to how markets behave and consumers shop and pay their bills. It is boosting industrial and agricultural productivity across the globe, revolutionising healthcare and education, and enabling smart young men and women with little cash in their pockets to create billion-dollar companies. New technology is also changing itself very rapidly while disrupting economies and businesses. Economists and policymakers agree that digitisation helps an economy grow quickly, improves the business environment, creates jobs and alleviates poverty much faster than the ones that choose not to embrace it. So, it is sad to note that Pakistan has failed to adopt digital technology the way it should have and keep pace with its advancement. As countries such as Bangladesh are digitising their economies to fuel innovation, growth and jobs, we are still struggling with slow, patchy internet connectivity and a poor digital infrastructure. Our young entrepreneurs are finding it hard to access the funds required for business growth or to do business with the rest of the world. Attempts made by successive governments to push digitisation of the economy have mostly been erratic and have lacked direction. Against this background the Digital Pakistan initiative launched on Thursday by Prime Minister Imran Khan has raised some hope that the government has at last decided to make a concerted effort to promote digital technology in the country.

The initiative “sets Pakistan’s digital ambition” and is “designed both for the government and private sector to work towards a digitally progressive and inclusive Pakistan” by enhancing connectivity, improving digital infrastructure, investing in digital skills and literacy, and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. It is a good sign that the push for the initiative is marked by a commitment by the young and energetic to see it through. This aspect generates expectations and makes the digital future of Pakistan all the more worth looking forward to. Nevertheless, it will be a mistake to expect a change overnight. It is going to be a long run. For digital technology to create an impact on economic development, we will first require consistent efforts and political commitment, substantial investment in infrastructure and appropriate policies to catch up with the rest of the world. We have the ingredients to create a digital ecosystem and make this change happen. The question, in the words of Tania Aidrus, who will lead the initiative, is, how quickly can we begin?

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019

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