Is Pakistan destined to be a Silicon Valley?

Published: October 17, 2016
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Country needs tech firms much more than food joints. PHOTO SOUCE: FORBES

Country needs tech firms much more than food joints. PHOTO SOUCE: FORBES

ISLAMABAD: In the early ‘70s, a Bangalore-based engineer envisioned his beloved city becoming a Silicon Valley of India. The core behind this idea was the establishment of a dedicated electronic city for technology companies.

Vision is never easy to sell. RK Baliga, the dreamer, was lucky enough to have a patron in the shape of Devaraj Urs, Chief Minister of Karnataka. Despite resistance from various quarters, Urs approved and fully supported the project.

Pakistani students get a taste of Silicon Valley

In 1976, the foundation was laid for the 332-acre Electronic City near Bangalore. The Karnataka state government provided the initial seed money for the project. At present, the Electronic City is the largest cluster of technology companies in Bangalore with over 300 firms.

The story of Bangalore is not that linear. Various factors worked in its favour, such as a moderate climate, central location, concentration of public engineering firms and presence of high-quality educational institutions. Indeed, it is a combination of these factors that forms an ecosystem conductive for the Silicon Valley in the making.

Baliga’s dream was just an ignition for the start of a structural journey. The support of Karnataka political leadership remained crucial for its sustenance and subsequent success.

In August 1985, Texas Instrument established a research and development (R&D) facility in Bangalore and became the first global technology company to create a presence in India. In the 90s, a joint venture between the Singapore government and the Karnataka state government led to the setting up of the International Tech Park in Bangalore.

With each passing year, Bangalore is becoming more attractive for international tech investments in software, business process outsourcing and even hardware.

The making of Pakistan’s Silicon Valley

A city of 12 million inhabitants, Bangalore has a 31% share in total Indian IT exports of $85 billion, a whopping $26 billion in comparison to total Pakistan’s exports of $20 billion.

A number of Fortune 500 companies have their development centres and R&D facilities in Bangalore. Top Indian IT companies such as Wipro and Infosys have their head offices there. Even Chinese are not lagging behind as Huawei Technologies has established its largest global service centre outside China in Bangalore.

However, Bangalore is not without its own set of problems. Rapid expansion over the last two to three decades is extracting its cost in terms of environmental degradation.

With increased concretisation, its reputation as a garden city is diminishing. The city’s broader infrastructure may not be considered as of world class. However, struggle is on by the state government and the buoyant private sector to sustain its livability and maintain its lead as the IT hub of India.

Building a niche

What lessons lie in the Bangalore story for Pakistan? Despite the ongoing enemy rhetoric by public figures and corporate media of both countries, we need to think dispassionately to deduce meaningful lessons from the Bangalore model.

There is indeed a humongous gap between the Pakistani and Indian IT economy. The reasons could be numerous from economic, technical to political. Catching up is not the issue, but building a niche is a task.

The question is whether Pakistan does have a spatial space for a Silicon Valley. Lahore and Karachi are the main IT hubs in Pakistan, but their spatial look does not give a feel of Silicon Valley.

However, Islamabad, the beautiful, does offer the endowments in terms of its excellent weather, topography, public engineering firms and technical educational institutions. Initial impetus for the Silicon Valley in northern California and Bangalore came from defence contracting and public engineering firms. Islamabad’s case cannot be much different.

Expat-friendly

Technology remains an arena of ideas and scale. We need to work on scale first, where cheap brains will be the principal comparative advantage.

Modi heads to Silicon Valley chasing a digital dream

Pakistani IT companies are striving, however, high cost of business and security perception remain major impediments. How can a nascent startup or even mid-level company afford the rental value of real estate in Islamabad? We need domestic technology companies much more than food joints from employment and wealth creation perspectives. Pakistan has to aim vigorously at making its working and living environment more expat-friendly. We need to answer honestly whether we can offer a fun environment as present in Silicon Valleys of the West and East.

If not, then our gullible population should be informed that we remain destined to the peripheries of global innovation. It is time to think hard and decide harsh.

The writer is a director at the Policy Research Institute of Market Economy

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Raghavan
    Oct 17, 2016 - 9:00AM

    First create successful startups for your own internal consumptions. Later based on your success MNC’s will automatically will come. Fireeye a company started by a pakistani has biggest base in Bangalore after silicon valley.its bcos of quality of talent.

    Also author miss something here. Bangalore though have big traffic problem, technology giants want to open office only in Bangalore instead of other tech cities like Hyderabad Chennai Pune. Quality of candidates is still exceptional in Bangalore.Recommend

  • harkol
    Oct 17, 2016 - 9:12AM

    Hope Pakistan finds a way out of the militaristic pursuits of ‘strategic depth’ and silicon valley would be a good beginning to that… Sooner Pakistan disabuses people that death is a beginning of good life, such a dream will become feasible.Recommend

  • abood
    Oct 17, 2016 - 9:24AM

    People from banglore are great.indian friends from banglore are wonderful people.educated ,peace loving and above all innovative.they are completly different from guys from bihar bombay and delhi.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 17, 2016 - 11:13AM

    There is no blasphemy law for the Christian expats to worry about in Banglore Recommend

  • ali
    Oct 17, 2016 - 11:18AM

    First promote local start ups.
    Then improve the educational sector in Pakistan. Give some incentives to the IT related field graduates to stay in Pakistan.
    Just visit any one of the top university in Pakistan and ask them their students if they want to stay in Pakistan, their answer will pretty much tell how much the coming generation is interested in staying in Pakistan.

    If the cream of the crop moves abroad then how will we set up a silicon valley with mediocre at best graduates.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Oct 17, 2016 - 11:35AM

    Pakistan’s should explore its niche in AI since it has had real issues with RI from the get-go ! And the good thing about this, the hub can be sited anywhere in the country…Recommend

  • Mayor
    Oct 17, 2016 - 12:00PM

    Is Pakistan destined to be a Silicon Valley?

    No, you can’t make entire country as Silicon Valley. Although entire Pakistan today is known as IT hub, making entire country as Silicon Valley is not something any nation has attempted except maybe small countries like Estonia, Sweden. Recommend

  • Anon
    Oct 17, 2016 - 1:37PM

    First, Pakistan need to end long load shedding hours in cities,,,, then think something elseRecommend

  • HBK
    Oct 17, 2016 - 1:41PM

    Good thinking, but at least first increase education level in Pak and give education to millions of children who are out of schoolRecommend

  • Samrat
    Oct 17, 2016 - 2:09PM

    Who provided this bogus figure of $20 billion IT exports by PAK? I bet its not even $2 billion.Recommend

  • just answering
    Oct 17, 2016 - 2:50PM

    @Samrat $ 20 billion is Pak`s total export, all things combined, not only IT, which is few millions at best.Recommend

  • Fahad
    Oct 17, 2016 - 3:23PM

    @Samrat:
    $20 billion is Pakistan’s total export. And you’re right, IT’s contribution is less than 1 billion USD Recommend

  • Mayor
    Oct 17, 2016 - 3:24PM

    @Samrat You are right Pakistan IT exports is around $2 billion, maybe author referring to real exports which is around $20 billion. And Bangalore software export is not $26 billion it is more than $40 billion. Recommend

  • Saeed Masood
    Oct 17, 2016 - 5:28PM

    Need some very honest and wise people who only think about better Pakistan.Recommend

  • Black Hawk
    Oct 18, 2016 - 12:51PM

    Pakistan has potential but it would need to stop differentiating between good & bad terrorism and end its obsession with Kashmir. You can’t have a progressive mindset & a suicidal mindset at the same time.Recommend

  • Bhai
    Oct 18, 2016 - 3:33PM

    Whatever one may feel about Modi….. one has to appreciate the good things he does for his country….

    We need what is called a statesman’s vision and a Baniya’s heart for investments….. for identifying the right investment opportunity and waiting long enough with Govt. investments in to yield great results in the long term.

    These kind of thinking cannot be cultivated in war rooms or meeting rooms. Our War hardened generals ( good in handling both state and non-state forces) cannot think. If you treat every situation as a battle to be won and boost ego.. you can never win an economic/ intellectual game….Recommend

  • MJS
    Oct 18, 2016 - 9:39PM

    Modi cannot be credited for his policies that are currently making Indian IT sector successful. He is only benefiting from the correct decisions, policies and hard work of the previous governments. Recommend

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