Pakistan and the age of accelerations

Pakistan now produces cheaper models of China-led manufacturing units in country to meet the growing need of public


Shahzad Chaudhry September 30, 2022
The writer is a political, security and defence analyst. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at [email protected]

Moore’s law is more about the exponential increase in the power of computing which accelerates by square with every linear unit of time. But it explains well how fast and how frequently events beyond human comprehension will leave the unprepared behind. Much late in our conscience did climate change mean anything to us. Yet it enabled a learning curve through incrementally intensifying weather phenomenon culminating in what Pakistan suddenly realised was the climactic exhibition of its ferocity and devastation when it finally came face to face with it.

Could we have prepared better: surely. Could we have mitigated its destructive impact: quite a bit — had we started the actions in an earlier timeframe and recognised the threat it became. We did neither bear the full force of it with its destructive tale.

It will put Pakistan a decade if not two behind as it struggles to find a way out. But the mere knowledge, the conception and comprehension of the extent of the problem, and a little concerted effort to put in place measures to manage or mitigate its impact may have saved us lives, infrastructure and economic pain. We failed at it as a nation. Technology is the other beast that Gordon Moore, famous Tech-Giant Intel’s CEO, predicted almost prophetically in 1965 warning its uncontrolled growth and acceleration which has placed the world of the unprepared on the verge of unravelling the state and the society.

Rather than prepare to handle, manage and optimise to mitigate its disruptive consequences the state and the society are instead hopelessly exposed to its destructive implications. Once again Pakistan and states like it will be buffeted by unharnessed technology which is being exploitatively used by those who intend harm.

The ongoing fracas of the audio leaks which name and shame a bevy who claim unrivalled privilege and prestige laid open by a hacker with access to hours of their communication from personal to private to political to commercial wheeling dealing is the consequence. Those responsible for security and intelligence apparatus of the country may be the next laying open the question if indeed we have grown, organisationally and functionally, to the level where uncontrolled and unregulated users of it can be timely circumscribed. Clearly not. When you lag in a power curve no amount of extra effort will redeem the missteps. Here is how it has happened.

Pakistan claims one of the most aggressive cell-phone density in the region touching 88 per cent of its mostly semi-literate population of which at least 54 per cent are subscribers to 2/3G platforms or smart phones.

Pakistan now produces cheaper models of mostly China-led manufacturing units in country to meet the growing need of an avarice public. Uninitiated into how technology works or what Android based phones bring along in terms of exposure to an open-based architecture they remain essentially tech-novices. With the amount of spyware that accompanies entirely innocuous feeds through social media the uninitiated permit malware to house in targeted platforms.

From converting a silenced phone into a convenient transmitter is just that easy. How many of them will give a fig even if they knew how it goes is the attitudinal malady that ails this mindset. Especially in a semi-educated society where gossip or disinformation holds greater fun value giving it longer legs than any effort to discern the truth. Slowly the society loses its direction. How has the rest of the world dealt with this enigma? Most educated societies are law-abiding and process conscious.

They will stick to what is ordained by the regulating agencies about managing sensitive or even personal information. Governments develop elaborate laws for suppliers and vendors to qualify and establish a minimum-performance criteria and a security regime that must be incorporated before the equipment qualifies for induction. That the system must incorporate minimum security protocols is essential if those are to be employed in sensitive areas. Users, mostly governments, will ensure security and procedural safety through repeated reminders and updation of the protocols of safety of information and ensure compliance.

We as a society are rather derelict and abhor restrictive regimes even if those help ensure security of sensitive content. Walking into high offices with a phone when conversations can be sensitive or with high officials regarding policy or governmental matters is common and even when protocols demand leaving a cell-phone out the procedure is disdainfully shunned. With the current spate of audio-leaks by a hacker, or spyware, should raise enough consciousness to develop regimes that can provide safety of information in sensitive areas of governmental work.

Critical and crucial information is being leaked by hackers who intend to harm, malign or exploit to their intended advantage. Private users of communication technology, especially semi-skilled and semi educated, may still not learn much rather relish the recordings of the high and the mighty but those that are directly affected will need to be extra cautious in how they conduct their routine business.

By way of information Data Centres with huge square-feet space are spread over acres in most developed countries. Regions in the US have thriving local economies around such businesses which is both commercial and governmental where data is banked for targeted analysis. These are highly classified buildings with restrictive access.

Analysts, one can imagine, assisted ably by AI farm through the data to discern useful information about entities, organisations and people which provide leverages to those that need it including governments, institutions, intelligence functions or commercial enterprises. They may then develop means to influence elections, use it to subvert or instill a thought or disinform, or sell data for personal gain.

Julian Assange and Edward Snowden should have woken the world to what was coming. But the pace of it all wrong-footed many including the not so tech-savvy.

Pakistan is in the throes of one such episode in what seems the hand of a local data-farmer. He is currently using it to malign many in the Pakistani political and government system with its attendant cost in respective personal and institutional inadequacies. Whether what is to come will also reveal some state secrets in the domain of defence and policy is to be seen. It is in any case already a crippling blow to these entities. We are a technically handicapped nation.

We may be knocking on 5G as a format of interaction but essentially we hardly understand technology beyond the capacity of an end-user of limited means. A semi-educated people have the wherewithal of a modern society without the necessary know-how of how best to use it or protect it. Or to stick to the protocols of trust. As such we remain a most vulnerable group to insidious exploiters. Just as all before this it too shall pass and we shall remain as neglectful, as cavalier and as perfunctory as we have always been.

The society lacks the conception and the capacity to organise itself into protocols of stable and predictable existence. Our premier intelligence agencies must rev up to be equipped with intellect and the means to be steps ahead of those who portend harm. The society in general needs to be educated on the norms and the protocols of safe use of these means of modern communication.

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