How IT advancement can rescue Pakistan’s economy?

Muhammad Luqman

SAAD Hussain, a software prodigy based in Lahore, the IT Capital of Pakistan, sent ripples in world’s software industry by developing a user-friendly app for blackberry phone a couple of years ago, winning acclaim at home and abroad. Now, he has dozens of mobile phone applications and video games to his credit. To him, every Pakistani IT savvy person has an opportunity to achieve something in the field of software development. Sky is the limit, he says.
Pakistan’s mobile app, gaming, and animation development industry is fast progressing. Export of mobile phone apps is fetching US $ 10 million to the country every month. The yearly overall IT exports have now exceeded US $ 2 billion. Unlike Bangalore, dubbed as Indian Silicon Valley, Lahore is a late entrant. It was a huge turnout of the IT graduates from the universities and colleges and return of the foreign qualified Pakistani graduates that helped nurture software industry in this eastern Pakistan city of Lahore. Saleem Ghauri is often cited as an example of successful entrepreneur, whose software house NETSOL is the only NASDAQ listed company in Pakistan.
There were a few universities in Pakistan during 1980s that taught computer sciences but the master’s degree offered in the educational institutions like Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad was restricted to courses on hardware and a few languages like Cobol, Fortran, C++. It was the introduction of worldwide web or the Internet in this part of the world in late 1990s and early 2000s that resulted in the mushrooming growth of the institutions teaching software programs and web development.
This upsurge in digital activity helped software industry take roots in Pakistan with hundreds of software houses sprouting in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The tax holiday and other incentives announced during the early 2000s helped Pakistan emerge as a software exporting country. Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman, who was in charge of the IT and Telecom Ministry at that time, had set a target of software exports worth US $ 10 billion by 2010. This seemed a doable target at that time as Pakistani software houses had been able to find way into US market especially in the IT-enabled businesses like Medical Transcription, Legal Transcription and other BPO activities.
But then Pakistan went off track, partly due to security situation along the Afghan border and partly due to the ineffective governance. The nascent Medical Transcription and Legal Transcription businesses could not take off and the institutes offering training in these fields were ultimately closed down. Pakistan’s software exports slumped drastically. Consequently, Pakistani software industry re-positioned itself and became more inward looking. The match making between software houses and the industrial units helped the young engineers develop automation software and program.
However, things would soon change for the better. A major thrust in the software development and exports came after the high mobile phone usage took the nation by storm. Introduction of 3 G and 4 G technologies for mobile internet has been the major catalyst. Now the number of mobile phone and Internet users in this country, categorized as low income nation, has reached 114 million.
Pakistanis have done wonders in the IT field. Ashar Aziz founded Fire Eye company that specializes in cyber security, while Pakistani visual effects artist Mir Zafar Ali has received three Oscar awards for his fabulous work in Golden Compass, Life of Pi and Frozen. Other successes stories include I2C’s development of payment solutions, Convo social network, eyedeus lab app and title animation sequence of American TV series Game of Thrones.
Pakistani women have also made a mark in the IT field. Animator Novaira Masood has to her credit visual effect work for movies including Maleficent, A Christmas Carol, and Transformer III. According to data available with Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), increased activity in the software houses and mobile companies has resulted in investment in the field of information technology to the tune US $ 5.138 billion over the last five years. Software houses believe, if tax holiday is extended beyond June this year the country’s IT exports may touch the mark of US $ 5 billion by the year 2018. Considering that Pakistan’s total exports have been hovering around $ 30 billion, such addition would certainly be wonderful.

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