Thursday, September 13, 2007

State of Affairs & Affairs of the State IN Pakistan IT

As the founder and pioneer of Internet email in Pakistan, and original founding co-owner of the privately created .PK top level domain, I was delighted to see Patrick Thibodeau's attempt at a fair and balanced article on the state of IT in Pakistan in ComputerWorld magazine.

I found it heartening to see Pakistan's sea of talent finally getting some recognition. Even as a Pakistani-born American, I do have to give kudos to how much better India has done with IT and professional development. I am sorry to say, but Pakistan is its own worst enemy. From corrupt politicians, to regular bouts of military dictatorships, from illiterate stone-age fundamentalists and mullahs targeting any attempt at modernization to the grossly unjust treatment of all of Pakistan in the US media, Pakistan has far too many challenges to overcome, but they are not insurmountable.

Having received my Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the prestigious University of Engineering and Technology, in Lahore, it amazes me to this day of how many truly incredibly brilliant engineers I was privileged to know as classmates and fellow students in the period of 1980-84. Many of them are among the smartest people I ever met, even when compared to my fellow alumni at globally respected Ivy League universities like Columbia Business School, etc. I am certain Pakistan still produces that high caliber in some of its universities. Yet, it is nowhere on the IT map like India and even others are.

What concerns me are bigger problems that Pakistan faces. One is the absolutely dismal state of education in Pakistan in the rest of the country.

Even more worrisome is the ease with which students are being churned out as "IT graduates" (a problem I see happening in India also) that can barely speak English, lack even basic concepts of today's networking and computer technologies, with even fewer avenues to learn. I know about it because I interviewed several candidates in Lahore and Islamabad just a few weeks ago.

Another problem is the fact that like almost every thing else in Pakistan, the government tries to insert itself into everything. So, while I appreciated the letter of Yusuf Hussain, Managing Director of the Pakistan Software Export Board, Islamabad, Pakistan, responding to the ComputerWorld article, I do not see government entities as saviors but cancers that plague almost every field where Pakistanis can bootstrap and make a mark in the world of technology or business.

It is ironic and tragic that while the Pakistani government goes begging for things like F-16 aircraft and other top technologies created by the American private sector, it itself makes no great effort to liberate the millions of talented, hard working, innovative, inventive and, yes, often brilliant, Pakistanis from channeling their energies into starting whatever business they want, almost whatever industry they choose in the private sector.

True, the current dictator, Musharaff has been better for business (and even press freedom) than so-called elected leaders like Benaznir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. But, corrupt politicians, including dictators and elected ones, always ensure policies are put in place that ensure their friends and families can corner the market in any emerging industrial opportunity, while regulating the rest into the stone age.

Most societies can barely struggle with one cancer or two in their social fabric... Pakistan has corrupt leaders, bureaucrats, military dictators, evil fundamentalists, poverty, illiteracy and lack of resources to overcome. Only Pakistanis have the ability to overcome all of these and one hopes they will find it in their own hearts and souls to do so instead of "Waiting for Allah" - or government policies or some grand savior that never comes.

The ComputerWorld article was a good first step in US-based Pakistanis and entrepreneurs helping the talent in Pakistan overcome these obstacles.

What are your ideas?
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