IT is tragic, though not surprising at all, that Pakistan has remained on the peri- phery of global trade and commerce, especially when it comes to the domain of information technology (IT). The talented youth, professionals, and the nation at large continue to dream of the day when Pakistan will seize the moment and become a decent IT hub where innovation and technology seeding would take place. But, right now, this remains a dream.

The tragic part is not the dream, but the fact that it has remained a dream even when we have the potential to convert it into reality. We have computer literacy, relevant professionals, IT institutions and dedicated incubation centres and parks. All that is required is the will of a merit-worthy, competent leadership to achieve what we need.

And to achieve our goal, we need to take several steps, starting with building a strong IT infrastructure. A robust IT infrastructure is essential for a country to support software and IT development. This includes reliable internet connec- tivity, data centres, and cloud computing services. Pakistan needs to invest in building this infrastructure to attract IT businesses and foster a thriving IT ecosystem.

We need to invest heavily in education. Developing a strong education system that provides specialised training and skills in software and IT is critical to creating a talented workforce. Pakistan needs to invest in both formal education programmes and training programmes to ensure that the country has the necessary skills in abundance to compete globally.

There is a lot more that needs to be done to encourage entrepreneurship, like the government may encourage entrepreneurship by providing funding, mentorship and other support for start-ups in the IT sector. This can create a thriving ecosystem of start-ups and IT businesses that can help drive innovation and growth.

Open-source software can be a critically powerful tool for developing countries to build software solutions and IT services without incurring the high costs of proprietary software. Promoting the use of open-source software can help build a strong IT industry in Pakistan.

There is also a rather urgent need for fostering a seriously business-friendly environment. Creating such an environ-ment will encourage investment and entrepreneurship, and, as such, it is essential for the growth of the IT industry. This includes policies that support innovation, protect intellectual property rights, and provide tax incentives for IT businesses.

We should enable youth to participate and be part of a countrywide initiative for knowledge transfer, exchange and friendly competition. By taking these critical steps, Pakistan can build a thriving software and IT industry that can drive economic growth and create jobs for its citizens, especially for the disenfranchised youth.

The country’s leadership should stop mixing the export of, say, mangoes and oranges with that of IT or software anymore. After all, we are living in the 21st century, a century of IT, of biotech and what not. Instead, let us impress bodies, such as the US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) about Pakistan’s IT capability and then take full advantage of the generalised system of preference (GSP) programme for developing countries.

My heart really sank recently when I learned that a major Karachi-based university of computer and emerging sciences, which has been known for its IT-related academic programmes, reversed gears and reduced its BS Robotics programme to a generalised Computer Science one. Such regressive steps will not take us ahead, and will not help us stand proudly among the developed nations.

Faisal Habib
Karachi

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2023

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