The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is taking a victory lap after convincing former Google executive Tania Aidrus to head up its ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday described the project as one that would unleash the full potential of women and young people in the economy. This, he said, would be done by using e-governance as a tool to promote inclusion and do away with various forms of graft, while admitting that a few cybersecurity hurdles still needed to be addressed. The prime minister also called out detractors of the project, saying, “You won’t be able to stop us for much longer.”
For her part, Aidrus explained that the Prime Minister’s assurances had provided her with the confidence to “take a leap of faith and contribute to Pakistan”. She highlighted the economic potential in almost every sector of the economy with a comment about there being potential billion-dollar companies everywhere. She also made reference to Pakistan’s massive under-25 population and the growing middle class. Her confidence was reflected in her statement that “the question is not whether or not it can take place in Pakistan. The question is: how quickly can we begin?” Aidrus also introduced the five strategic pillars of the new initiative, namely access and connectivity, digital infrastructure, e-governance, digital literacy, and innovation.
Most of the talk on the occasion focused on consumption rather than improving quality of life. Indeed, the five pillars and what else is known of the project so far puts it within the scope of e-commerce and payment digitisation, which can provide quality of life benefits, but only as a side effect. Little is clear about how the project would provide benefits through expanded access to the internet and responsible use. We can only hope this was just an oversight, which will be addressed later. But it is also undeniable that digitisation of the economy and inclusion are both essential goals. Whether or not the project is as transformative as the Prime Minister suggested, these goals do need focus, and it is heartening to see a step taken in the right direction.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2019.