By Noor Fatima
For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic leapfrogged Pakistan into the digital domain and forced the country’s population, businesses and institutions to adopt a new, digitised lifestyle. Statistics are reflective of the country’s burgeoning digital landscape, with 90 million people able to access and the internet, and a further 45 million actively using social media actively. This was also seen in the annual report for 2020 released by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, which highlighted the tremendous growth the digital economy had seen. This week, we dive deep into the new, digital Pakistan, with the motto: “Roti, Kapra, Makaan, aur Internet.”
The “burgeoning digital landscape” and the many opportunities it poses for growth of the national economy as well as political media attention has been of utmost priority for the standing government. To this end, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs endeavoured to digitize the diplomatic DNA of Pakistan through the initiative “Vision FO.” Under this vision, the MoFA inaugurated a new, state of the art Media Briefing Centre with the latest digital technologies for the swift and accurate dissemination of information and news. Additionally, MoFA set up a new Strategic Communications Division with the mission of constructing positive narratives on the country and shifting mainstream perspectives that may be counterproductive. As part of this drive, all 117 Pakistani missions abroad are present and actively engaged with their respective audiences on various social media platforms, such as; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The use of social media messaging has become crucial to Pakistan’s ‘branding’, and it is imperative that alongside reforming the country, we work to reform perceptions with effective social media campaigns that emphasise positive initiatives and progress.
On the economic side of things, the State Bank of Pakistan’s (we are loving the many positive developments SBP has been pioneering!) most recent initiative, “Raast”, lies at the heart of the country’s progress. Raast is Pakistan’s one-of-a-kind payment system that allows end-to-end digital transactions between individuals, businesses and government institutions. Unlike other mobile and bank wallets, Raast aims to take all national banks on board to provide digital payment services to consumers of a larger demographic and wider socioeconomic spectrum, thereby reducing marginalisation on an economic front. Essentially, the motive behind this venture is to make digital services equitable so people of all strata of the society can reap benefits of the formal economy in a process that is void of bureaucratic procedures. The initiative works in three different ways:
The government can use it to pay government salaries, payments and stock dividends under the Ehsaas programme
It will allow person-to-person transactions (this mechanism has not yet been rolled out)
It will provide merchants with a ‘request-to-pay’ option
Although still in its infancy stage, Raast is definitely a great leap forward in enhancing the digital payment infrastructure of Pakistan and in turn, reducing transaction time for digital payments. The State Bank of Pakistan along with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is also working on a pilot project “Asaan Mobile Account” that will aim to serve as a bridge between mobile wallets and bank accounts. Raast also helps facilitate a more conducive business environment, effectively building the infrastructure for business merchants and entrepreneurs to innovate and invent over. Innovation and invention in Pakistan has remained stagnant for many years, and this is a huge barrier to industrialisation and technological progress in the country. Without shifting towards this, it will be difficult for the country to see sustained economic growth, which is indicated by rising per capita incomes, and therefore low and falling socio-economic development. Raast can also help prevent this!
At the crux of all these policies however, are Pakistan’s people. Pakistan’s greatest strength is its young population, and with an increasingly digital world, it is of utmost importance that they are provided not just with a quality education, but also with the skills that will allow them to excel in the competitive global market. The GoP’s Kamyab Jawan programme, Hunarmand Pakistan program, and other entrepreneurship schemes (all of which can/should be explored here!) all seek to build a more empowered generation of young Pakistanis. While all these programs are still in need of improvement on the front of implementation, the steps being taken are certainly appreciable and a testament to the progress Pakistan is making.
In order to reap maximum benefits from the promising digital journey that Pakistan has embarked on, there are some necessary steps that need to be taken by the government. For starters, the government needs to improve and strengthen the current digital communication network of the country, providing internet and access to at least one device per household available to all. Simultaneously, businesses should be incentivized to adapt their business models to withstand the ever-changing digital landscape, and provide their workers with digital skills, along with other transferable skills, so that we have a well-equipped labour market.
There is no denying the fact that this is a momentous time in the digital trajectory of Pakistan. As we progress, it is important to consider the long-term impacts of our short-term actions, avoiding any and all forms of ‘policy myopia’, and ensuring that the people of Pakistan are secure in personal, professional and financial capacities. Pakistan is progressing, and it is incredibly exciting for us to be at the forefront of this progress. To a more digital Pakistan!
If you are a young Pakistani, head over to this link now to complete the government’s Kamyab Jawan survey and have your say in policy prioritisation: https://kamyabjawan.gov.pk/Home/YouthSurveyKJ