It hardly comes as a surprise that Pakistan remains one of the least connected countries in the world. A recent World Bank report titled, “Digital Dividends”, has highlighted how the country has been unable to take advantage of the online revolution and continues to bank on traditional methods of governance, with much of the population still deprived of access to the internet and its benefits. Despite next-generation mobile broadband services arriving in the country in 2014, Pakistan is a long way away from taking advantage of the digital world. The banking sector continues to rely heavily on paperwork while the process of tax collection and filing of returns remains as tedious as ever. Only recently have we seen the e-commerce sector starting to gather pace, but the benefit of that is yet to be properly extended to the more remote parts of the country.
However, Pakistan’s failure to increase connectivity, especially in rural areas where it is most needed and could potentially help advancements in the health care and education sectors, cannot be looked at in isolation. The World Bank report highlights how high-income countries have benefited more from staying connected. Therein lies the difference. Pakistani governments are still looking to tackle basic issues, such as providing security to citizens and resolving power outages. Averting a balance of payments crisis and debt servicing are next on the list. Given these basic constraints, it should not raise eyebrows that increasing the connectivity level and access to internet are low on the priority list. The provision of basic education is the foremost issue that needs to be tackled because an illiterate person can hardly be expected to take full advantage of the benefits that the internet brings with it. The concept of online schools and lectures is not a far-fetched idea. Improving connectivity and access to basic rights, like education, can go hand in hand, and the internet can play a vital role in this regard. But in a country where video-sharing websites have remained blocked for years, we can only expect very gradual progress. Improvements need to take place at a much faster pace.