TL:DR Let us start off by defining what this post is not. It is not a critique of any thing besides the content and the context that it was published under and its likely implications. It is also a recognition that you cant make every one happy but you have our respect for going down this path and accepting the Challenge.

This document has varying degrees of focus and at some places no focus at all, I sincerely hope #DigitalPakistan is a collection of action items beyond HashTag wisdom. No denying the history lesson or to recognise the strength of our country, our people and our resilience. What does #DigitalPakistan bring to the table? that we already don’t know? What ministry is this part of? What is the official make up of all the team members of this initiative. There are murmurs of capitalists lingering in the hallways of power whilst this is being done. Is it a policy initiative only? Does the PMO expect Tania to do this alone? She has braved enough initial feedback by her self. Where is her team? Why? When so many SAPMs also not make her one? But beyond the intergovernmental f*ups, lets look at the content.

Know thy constituents.

Digital Pakistan, a glocal movement”

This document starts off with defining Digital Pakistan as a glocal movement. Glocal, an adjective, by definition, is “reflecting or characterised by both local and global considerations. The term “glocal management” in a sense of “think globally, act locally” is used in the business strategies of companies, in particular, by Japanese companies that are expanding overseas. Heres some history to go with it…The concept comes from the Japanese word dochakuka, which means global localisation. It had referred to the adaptation of farming techniques to local conditions. It became a buzzword when Japanese business adopted it in the 1980s. The word stems from Manfred Lange, head of the German National Global Change Secretariat, who used “glocal” in reference to Heiner Benking’s exhibit: Blackbox Nature: Rubik’s Cube of Ecology at an international science and policy conference.

So when you are putting out a national level policy directive or an initial guidance document it must make sense to the masses and the constituents both in context and content.

We should build what works for us. I can’t imagine mobile phone usage/growth/adoption in Pakistan without prepaid services. If Telcos had tried the postpaid route(and modified global models), many dead carcasses would be on the ground due to indebtedness. Our peculiarities matter. Glocalization is good but lets do this one step at a time with context and a feel for the local market. You cant helicopter in and rescue the ones who already have a life boat, look for the ones that dont.

Lets look Deeper at the content..

(1) Access & Connectivity
(2) Digital infrastructure
(3) eGovernment
(4) Digital Skills & Training and
(5) Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Even prior to and independent of this announcement, nascent conversations and even the usage of the #DigitalPakistan hashtag was prevalent. Many public and private stakeholders exist today that partially overlap with Digital Pakistan. However, an overarching body to help keep “the bigger picture” in mind to cohere messages and calls to action, and ensure that outcomes are aligned with the mission, tends to be missing.

A Document that starts of by defining the #Hashtag DigitalPakistan vs the listed 1 through 5 Areas of the vision, does not give me the comfort that the team putting out this document has a sense of what all the constituents and citizens of the ecosystem want and expect. It seems like a document thats heavy on expat-pleasing vernacular vs substance. Look, I want this to succeed as much as the next person. I have invested time, effort, physical presence in to relocating to Pakistan by actively participating on the ground. But this reality distortion field(document) is not going to help any one the way it stands now. By trying to appease other actual government constituents, this seems like a communication that is white washing the issue and doing diplomacy as opposed to national information infrastructure building. The PMO should not be building consensus within their own ranks at our cost. Not every one is going to be tweeting #goodjob #bestofluck and asking on how to participate in this vision. Some of us are going to ask #whatnext?

As a mission-driven initiative, Digital Pakistan’s focus is primarily on ensuring that desirable outcomes are achieved. Specifically, this means that Digital Pakistan’s success should primarily be measured on whether such outcomes are actually achieved; the concrete implementing body and / or method is secondary.

I read with interest the above items in bold. Let’s take it from the top, is this a vision? is this an initiative? Is it a Program? Where is the Mission? Who is defining the outcomes and achievements or did #DigitalPakistan just concede space to existing state actors, bureaucrats and others to say;

” hey, we want to do good work, it doesn’t matter if your actual ministry or cell or division does the work.” The buck has to stop with some one. So what I’m reading is ,that its ok if the end-details aren’t worked out; what is important is the work starts. Thats not a good starting position. Displacing accountability before doing any thing real is already at the detriment of the people at large.

In some ways, I do agree, that inter departmental politicking will be bad but this document at-least up-to this point does-not define any thing substantive. Besides clearing their air between seemingly hostile intergovernmental constituents I cant get a feel for where this is headed.

A key part of Digital Pakistan is therefore assuming the mantle of custodian for a set of principles and values defining what Digital Pakistanis. By further helping shape and advance the Digital Pakistan narrative, we hope that the plethora of initiatives and widespread energy spent by various
stakeholders is channeled productively
, in return, making each individual effort more successful.

Key Digital Pakistan Principles

1.#shaamil- Responsible and inclusive access to information and information technologies are a fundamental right.
a. Affordable access to any required hardware devices (e.g. low-end smartphones)
b. Universal data access (e.g. connectivity in geographically remote areas)
c. Affordable data access (e.g. mobile subscription plans)
d. As free flow of information as possible

A) Affordable access to hardware..well this seems to be out here because the govt already reduced tax for feature(ish) phones https://www.phoneworld.com.pk/taxes-on-mobile-phone-import-reduced/ in the first week of Jan. This is a post effect engineered win for #DigitalPakistan. The whole regime on phone taxes is a different issue in-itself that needs better management on control and chori vs taking irrelevant half baked policy decisions on Low end smart phones. You never make a high end play using low end thinking.

B) Universal data access, we already have enough basic access to get the ball rolling. Had Google Station not been shut down, id imagine this to be out of that play book. Clearly 4g reigns supreme even for Google. https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/17/21140698/google-station-discontinued-free-wifi-india-south-africa-railway-stations

C) Again our carriers are doing a good to great job on this, we have some the least expensive data plans in the world. So what does #DigitalPakistan bring to this. *Note, ask any cell phone carrier and they will tell you that between 6pm to 11pm their data utilisation is off the charts. Also ask them what percentage of total data is being used for Youtube. So who are we really helping without having effective policy controls in place for ad-revenue/taxation and incorporation help for the giants? This is a gift that will keep on making other people rich(non-Pakistanis) if not linked to substantive policy decision to course correct.

D) I dont get this, this akin to saying, eat healthy to stay healthy, what does #DigitalPakistan have to do with it?

2.#hunarmand – 21st century skills to reap benefits of technology
a. Digital literacy and how to operate e.g. a smartphone
b. Skills for digitally enabled jobs (e.g. home-based selling of goods via social commerce)

#ifhashtagswereoutcomes this vision/document would have already won. Nothing wrong with the above, but if operating a smartphone is the hook, whats the kicker? Who will define it, how will it get done? For any one to migrate from operating a phone or point a to b, literacy to skill for digital jobs, we have a long way to go. Home based selling is a good story to sell but social commerce has key infra requirements that are seemingly outside the remit of this group. The postal service has had 300m$ plus of losses, if you want to work on actionable social commerce take that money and build out a distribution network that works. For social commerce to work, basic commerce has to work, tax nets and input items need to be managed, you can not continue to tax the working middle class over and over again. We are facing some of the. worst poverty numbers and highest inflation ever, hashtags arent going to feed any one any time soon.

3.#pehchaan – Simplify interactions between citizens, government and the broader economy.
a. Development of a “Pakistan Stack” as technology and data infrastructure connecting these different spheres.
b. Using digital technologies for easier and more transparent public expenditures, tax collection as well as prevention of tax evasion
c. Driving towards the ‘Ask only once’ principle i.e. aim to ensure that citizens, institutions, and companies only have to provide certain standard information to the authorities and administrations once

I can get behind this for sure. Digital Identity for better taxation, transparent services and govt/data/infra Rails, Spot on. But again this is old wine in new bottles, nothing has been done by transforming quick wins like OneLink etc to be coupled with Nadra etc to offer these services. I understand criticising this is easy, but we have quick wins possible, Instead of focusing on political wins like reducing dumb phone taxes alone, focus on other top priority areas like building an ecosystem for feature phone development incentives for local software companies.. Tax theft is easy to prevent, beyond intentions, link all banks to id cards and all bank data to a national tax system that is managed electronically, that blocks the tax evaders electric supply, their gas, their ability to have a cell phone and their kids to go to school.

4#digitaljugarus – An inclusive digital revolution must be an economic boon for all,
a. Fostering mass employment creation through digital platforms like marketplaces,
freelancing communities or ride hailing companies.
b. Creating an appropriate legal, financial and regulatory environment for technology
startups to flourish.
c. Be the conduit for linking local digital skills supply with global demand in areas with high global demand like machine learning or python.

For all the right things this basic document is trying to organise(admittedly this is better than any thing the IT Ministry ever came up with) it is marginalising the key contributor. The Community. This kind of imported terminology vernacular is completely out of place & border line embarrassing. It is also completely out of touch from the reality of free lancers young and old and those who want to evolve from truly basic operations into a SMEs, SMBs and Operate under a formal structure.

A) The government doesn’t need to get into the market place game/business, there are plenty out there and there is roughly between 1-3bn$ worth of free lance GreenBacks that are locked out of our eco-system, this money is parked offshore not because every ones a crook but due to lack of systems/payment processes in place. These guys are not Jugarus, how dare you? They are active contributing members of society who were let down by every one, who by them selves figured out to monetize their skill digitally, before there was a #digitalpakistan.

B)This item is the need of the hour, many cheers for having this in this 2 pager, but what is the 90 day action item that will make sure this happens? You realise all the companies your(various ministers) want to tax overseas are being gated from local presence because no one gets their legal framework ask. Not saying you make it to suit Google alone but there are many others who would jump on the opportunity.

C)The supply that is already there is operating in the free market and making dollars through freelancing, unless you up-skill the masses, there is no new value or economic input that you will impact by being a conduit of any kind. ML and Python take some time to scale, viz a vi training, there is investment $$s that need to go into it too. Google loves Python, if we fix the regulatory items, we can surely get some love from Mountain View? Maybe even others. But why limit to what you know get larger stake holder involvement, figure out what freelancers are bringing in the most moola and then adapt. Why prescribe items where there is limited hw, given one model already works. Scale that first. #askforhelp

Key Areas of Work

(One of the most fascinating aspects of the digital revolution is the vast scope and diversity of how it Impacts everyday life. As such, Digital Pakistan’s work and internal capabilities & capacities to advance the mission are multifaceted. In general, the bulk of the work can be grouped in five broad categories:

1.Channeling of and representing the Digital Pakistan Movement
a. Ongoing communication and evolution of the Digital Pakistan Narrative
b. Defining (annual) themes (e.g. jobs, education, government services) that can help channel the majority of efforts by Digital Pakistan Foundation but also other stakeholders towards focus areas

2.Information dissemination (e.g. enable other parties to make better decisions and / or Identify potentials). This includes:
a. content creation for layman and stakeholders (e.g. videos, white-papers, text, illustrations)
b. Train the trainer courses
c. Basic training courses (< 40h training)

3.Policy advancement or intervention (e.g. creating dialogue, lobbying)
a. Identifying key aspects of policy that can help accelerate adoption in Digital Pakistan’s focus areas (i.e. “What should be done that isn’t being done”).
b. Advising on existing or proposed policies that may stunt the digitization agenda (i.e. “What shouldn’t be done that is being done”)

4.Technology development. This includes:
a. “Quick Proof-Of-Concepts” to show potential real-world impact of certain ideas with the goal of being (eventually) replaced with permanent more scalable solutions
b. “Cornerstone technology development” that is built and / or operated by Digital Pakistan or potentially contributed to the Government of Pakistan for operations and has long-term strategic value to the overall mission

5.Building bridges and facilitating dialogue between citizens, government, local industry, and international players

1- If all we are worried about is the narrative then we shouldn’t be in this game. The word Digital Pakistan shows up in this 2 pager 17times. Have we run out of substance at launch? This is looking like an echo chamber to provide self assurance that some thing is being done and a quality angrezi document was produced. More than 50% of your intended audience cant make head or tail of this. Further when you translate this from English to Urdu, it will actually loose most of its opacity. As a first/launch document(you used an image and talk about transparency no text version made public), I cant even define what this is, is it a policy framework, is it a document to tell the “awam” what is coming? Is it there to show some thing is being done? Most of the items are dated, given past efforts have also come without action plans, time lines and ownership the awam will loose patience in a short time. This document it self says, dont worry about who does the job? What kind of a cop-out is that? You havent even started yet.

2- Dont get how information dissemination alone, translates to helping others make better decisions. What lay person uses white papers ? What does train the trainer have to do with the context of this point. Perhaps I am lost, but this is gibberish to cover a checklist of things that are said publicly that if googled make the general awam happy with some thing being done may be a good PR stunt but add no value to the bottom line.

3- If you are in government and you have to lobby to tell people what to do or what not to do, that tells me you are not empowered (yet). We dont need any more policies, in-fact we need less regulation any one who thinks and or wants to add an other layer of policy direction will meet with challenges far larger than their existing comprehension on the subject. Advisors have already destroyed this country beyond repair, Not saying this will meet the same fate, but we need an execution mind set.

“””maiñ ne us se ye kahā
har vazīr har safīr
be-nazīr hai mushīr”””

4- In plain speak you want to do MVPs and show things work, you also want to play a role in enabling tech that brings out long term changes. Great. But you will have to compete with NITB who are launching Islamabad specific app after app, and other state run orgs, who spend public money on accelerators and such. Also an IT Ministry that has no minister. So yet again the “awam” will pay the price of complete anarchy at the govt level. Zero planning, loose threads and a prayer. (This is one of the vaguest statement in the entire document).

5- P@sha does a decent job, other trade/functional bodies do too. Strengthen what you have, learn from what others have organically built in this country. Within their repertoire they also gave you the first incubator, that actually kick started the ecosystem and brought Pakistan to the attention of major other players who didn’t get involved before that. The Nest i/o with full admission of my bias, launched 021 disrupt, where you arguably had your first mass address to the community too. Strengthen those bonds, help facilitate that, get rid of PSEBs of the world and build out stronger support bodies. Less is more esp when it comes to regulation and growth. We are rooting for you on this. You have shown by your actions that you are looking to build an inclusive ecosystem. But this document does a dis-service to an otherwise stellar vision shared earlier publicly.

“You have to take the bull by the horns, you have to have a clear articulate strategy for each milestone”

Much like your selves I for sure don’t have the answers, but I didn’t sign up for public scrutiny by being a govt employee, no less as some one who is an active participant in the ecosystem, what Id like to see are items around:

1) A Concrete Payments Strategy

2) A Software Export Strategy & Plan Including Tax Incentives

3) A Legal Framework for foreign tech company incorporation

4) FX regulation on incoming freelancer payments and ability to hold up-to 50% of incoming USD for onward USD Expenses (hosting/subscriptions/tools etc)

5) A ban on predatory loans being made via apps locally (30-70% interest)

6) A regulatory control over what Jazz/EasyPaisa and others charge as fees for transfers (SBP needs to come into action here).

7) Single CNIC based Free lancer registration with a FreeLancer Bank Type so incoming funds are not held by banks from these freelancers and they are not made to feel like criminals when they go to get their money, they should be made heroes vs being given shitty treasury rates.

8) A legal framework to regulate predatory apps and services like Bigo live who could potentially be responsible for FATF style bans if left unchecked. (Pro Tip, call the telco payment companies and ask how much of Bigo Live/similar apps, enabled transactions are passing through their system.)

9)A policy on Nano-Lending (we are solving the wrong payments problem, we need to solve the nano-lending and the fiat currency change problem)

10) Create a policy of equals with China on e-commerce and cross border taxation, without controls, the willing and un-willing will import the hell out of drop shipping systems and use local postal delivery to burn FX on importing items. Regulate to promote local growth. Dont confuse it with enabling people to sell online. This is causing a trade deficit.

There is a whole lot more, but this is a good start, work on national info and payment rails, similarly tax rails. We need less lip service and documents and more actions. Most of the items here are a great first pass, but missing substance and the document feels like its talking down to the tech constituents of this country. Do not under estimate the people who are contributing hard $s to the economy, you can learn from them but don’t learn at their expense. We need actions now, because the ones we elected sadly were not capable. You have a long journey ahead. From Jan 5th 2019 and the formal launch of DigitalPakistan 76 days have lapsed and if the net outcome is 2 pages, I am but compelled to ask difficult questions. So lets hope you guys deliver on #DigitalPakistan vs this turning into a #DigitalJuloos .

3 thoughts on “#DigitalJuloos”

  1. I like transparency and fairness. Hence I like critics backed by facts and figures. An important & food for thought write up /blog.

    Are you on Twitter? I tweeted about your blog tagging Tania Aidrus.

  2. The Emperor has no clothes. But each fawning fanboy or fangirl he adds to his dream team continues to extol the virtues of the Emperor’s fine threads, primarily by the kind of BS you have tried to decipher.

  3. Great analysis, I couldn’t have put it better myself! As an expat who saw the announcement of the scheme earlier in December and is considering moving back – DigitalPakistan does not give me hope anymore.

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