Pakistan needs boost on IT front

ZDNet India takes a quick look at where Pakistan stands when it comes to information technology.

NEW DELHI (ZDNet India)--India-Pakistan rivalry, whether in the political arena or on the cricket field, has always been an issue of interest and debate.

However, with Pakistani President General Musharraf and Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee holding talks to solve the "outstanding" India-Pakistan issues, ZDNet India thought it worthwhile to take a quick look at where Pakistan stands when it comes to Information Technology.

Here are a few facts: The past decade has seen India zoom ahead to become a "software superpower". China--our other neighbour (with whom we are trying to rebuild relations)--is already the third largest in the hardware industry, and is all set to overtake us in this arena.

However, when it comes to the subject of Information Technology (IT), Pakistan hardly figures in the news.

We took a look at some figures which tell us why Pakistan is a laggard in the global IT field.

PC penetration: According to an eMarketer study on PC and telephone penetration, Pakistan's PC penetration (measured at PCs per hundred inhabitants) at 0.43 is slightly lower than India (0.45). China stands way above at 1.61.

Telephone Lines: Pakistan has 2.22 telephone lines per 100 inhabitants, while figures for other Asian countries are as follows--India (3.80), China (8.58) and Singapore (48.45).

Following India's success, Pakistani software exporters have been attempting to get a share of the IT software exports pie. The share of IT spending in Pakistan's GDP is only 0.1 percent (In India, it is about 0.6% of the GDP) as compared to over three percent in advanced countries. The government has allocated Rs 15 billion to develop IT. Under the action plan, IT parks are being set up in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

According to reports in the Pakistani daily, Dawn, out of the total size of the global IT services market valued at US$315 billion, Pakistan currently exports about US$35 million worth of software per year compared to US$8 billion from India, US$5 billion from Ireland and US$1.5 billion from Israel. IT experts say that Pakistan does not have the capacity to export even US$100 million.

Internet penetration: According to the Pakistan Telecom Company Limited (PTCL), Pakistan had 250,000 Internet subscribers in 2000 but still these are lower compared to other Asian countries. India has 4.5 million Internet subscribers while China has 12.3 million people online. Countries like Singapore have 1.74 million subscribers.

PTCL has a monopoly in the ISP sphere. Out of the 122 licenses issued to ISPs, only 43 ISPs currently operate Internet services. ISPs have complaints about the higher cost of leased lines, bandwidth charges, license fees, renewal charges and royalty.

Most Pakistanis are waiting for the PTCL monopoly (as with VSNL at our end) to come to an end in December 2002 when the market will get competitive.

Out of about 160 nations, Pakistan is ranked 147th on the literacy level and 128th on the Human Development Index, 132nd on the GDP level. It is the 7th most populated nation and has a measly 0.02 percent share of the global trade.

Small English-speaking population: A very small percentage of the Pakistani population speaks English hence the government is trying to develop software and application is Urdu software, in the hope that it will increase computer usage and Internet penetration.

Acute shortage of trained manpower: But Pakistan's biggest problem is its acute shortage of trained manpower, which India has in abundance. Pakistan currently needs over 50,000 IT trained workers compared to existing 8,000-9,000 IT workers that it has.

Despite having several reputed universities and colleges, Pakistan produces only about 800 IT professionals per year as they lack qualified faculty to train IT graduates. The government does not have the capacity to develop IT training institutes all over the country and relies on the private sector to play its role in IT promotion.

The key factor that could help Pakistan get ahead in the IT market is massive investments in IT training over an extended period of time.