Think of a billion-dollar number and there is a chance that some IT minister or even a prime minister will have claimed that to be Pakistan’s IT and ITeS exports, in the next one, three or five years.

In May 2022, then-Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication of Pakistan, Aminul Haque, had said IT exports would surpass the $3 billion target in FY22, due to measures taken by his ministry to boost growth. It did not happen.

In July this year, he expressed the resolve to increase IT exports to $15 billion from the current $2.6 billion (fiscal year 2023) in the next few years.

IT is a ray of hope

Then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif entered the arena to make headlines for himself. He said that an IT export target of $25 billion was achievable while speaking at an IT seminar in July this year.

Now, a recent strategy report published by the government has predicted that Pakistan’s IT exports are slated to reach $18 billion within the next five years.

PM Shehbaz vows to boost IT exports to $25 billion

Caretaker IT Minister Dr Umar Saif said the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) under the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication (MoITT) in collaboration with Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PwC), and other international partners, including faculty from the University of Oxford, developed this strategy which he says is closely aligned with the government’s vision.

The 18-page report, after gaining national coverage, came under severe criticism by industry experts who called it shallow and superficial at best.

One person also asked ChatGPT for its opinion – which minced no words in giving its analysis on the report.

Following this fiasco, Umar Saif came forward and tweeted that it was not the full report but just a summary of a bigger 300-page report, the ‘version of the Pakistan IT Export strategy report to be made public soon’ – four days after having unveiled it with great fanfare and media hype.

But let’s hope that there’s a report that can provide a blueprint for boosting IT exports to $18 billion by 2028. Let’s hope it is not another breadcrumb flung at the public for headlines and political mileage. In other words, finger’s crossed that it is not yet another gimmick.

But pinning our hopes on a report that has yet to be revealed to the public after a great display of unveiling may be a delusion.

The report doesn’t say much. Just previous stats and things required to transform the sector in the literal sense of generality. Anyone with a bit of knowledge can say that investments needs to be made, research and development is required, connectivity enhancement is needed, boot-camps and certifications as well as industry up-skilling.

First-ever IT and ITeS export strategy unveiled

The contents will only be known after we actually see it.

Moreover, it remains to be seen how government officials, the elected representatives next year will respond to the report provided elections are held as scheduled.

Nobody knows whether the report suggests the establishment of a committee to review quarter-to-quarter progress.

But let’s hope that this report finally gives some direction to the fast-paced IT sector, which otherwise remains a space for ministers to just make headlines with none of the schlepping.

So far, the sector has shown some organic growth with the help of opportunities coming in from abroad with enterprising software developers as well as freelancers making the most of it.

The government has done very little.

Tech professionals – software developers and freelancers who are meant to boost IT exports – struggle to receive payments against the services they have rendered to foreign clients.

The government has failed to bring Paypal or Stripe to allow for ease of remittance sending and retrieval.

Government officials must do something solid before trying to get into headlines.

The answer to the question – whether Pakistan increase its IT exports to $25 billion in a few years – is yes. Pakistan can most definitely do it.

But there needs to be a solid plan in place and a concerted long-term effort.

Gimmicks won’t lead Pakistan anywhere anymore.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Bilal Hussain

The writer is a Reporter at Business Recorder (Digital)

Comments

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Muhammad Nov 30, 2023 11:38pm
Tech is a creative business. Creative minds and markets can never flourish under repressive regims
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Az_Iz Dec 01, 2023 05:04am
Let's get to $5 billion first. $25 billion is a long way off.
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Salman Mahmood Dec 02, 2023 10:28pm
The majority of our IT exports come from offering our technology resources on a daily or monthly basis. This approach is more like a recruitment business than a software business. Without government support for R&D fund and assistance in developing software products, further growth is unattainable. Studies conducted by foreign experts often lack in-depth exposure to the local market and industry knowledge.
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Aam Aadmi Dec 03, 2023 03:56pm
Jokes are good to hear but not always. Our leaders, caretakers or regular should stop fooling the people and themselves. What IT and what exports? Islamabad is one of the smallest capitals in the world for a country with a large population like hours. Some sectors of Islamabad/ Rawalpindi are still without proper, stable internet. With a Literacy rate as low as hours, electricity going off for 6-8 hours (I am talking of areas in Islamabad/Rawalpindi), how can you daydream?
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Basit Shah Dec 04, 2023 12:30am
An informative article
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Tariq Qurashi Dec 07, 2023 11:55am
Yes it can, if the government stays out of it. The only thing that the government can do to help is get PayPal or an equivalent to come to Pakistan so IT companies and freelancers can receive payment smoothly.
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Imran Bukhari Dec 12, 2023 02:06pm
@Tariq Qurashi, When is this going to happen? They have been talking about it for months and months with no end in sight.
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