- Illusion versus reality
Digital technology has already made a significant headway in our society. Smartphones are being used in Pakistan to send and receive messages, access mail, hail cabs to work, send or receive money while political activists are fast learning to use them in election campaigns and for holding flash protests. E-commerce and a number of startups have made shopping and hiring of services easier.
Prime Minister Imran Khan does not therefore need to lecture to the country about the utility of digitalisation or to claim that a digital Pakistan will unleash the full potential of youth or that the country will experience a quantum leap ahead. He just needs to be reminded that a pioneer attempt in the field was made in Punjab by former CM Shehbaz Sharif who went for the digitalisation of land records to end the Patwari culture. Mr Khan needs to probe where the experiment failed with the result that the Patwaris are more powerful than DCs even in Naya Pakistan.
Mr Khan is right that certain institutions are opposed to digitalisation, particularly of government records. These are the ones who believe that secrecy gives them power. They make use of it for monetary gains or for assertion of illegal authority. What plan does he have to cope with the powerful institutions?
Digitalisation of the scale visualised by PM Imran Khan would pose much, much greater problems than the ones faced by the former CM of Punjab. There is a need to go beyond slogans and find answers to these problems. Digitalisation can of course open up employment opportunities to women in far flung areas. A boy polishing shoes in the streets can become a technician earning 10 or 20 times more. Yes, Pakistan has the world’s second largest youth population “which can be converted into our strength with this one initiative alone”. The problem is that the youth is mostly untrained and millions of it can neither read nor write. There is therefore a need for mega-investment in education and technical training to turn the dream into reality. With allocations for education by the PTI government in 2018-19 budget the lowest in the region, talk about the digital vision is moonshine.