‘Pakistan can benefit from Turkey’s digital governance experience’

Atif Khan, minister in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, reflects on relations with Turkey and way forward

ISTANBUL (AA) – Pakistan can benefit from Turkey’s experience in e-governance and the two countries have “no option than to further develop” bilateral relations, a Pakistani minister said.

“Turkey has done a fabulous job in e-governance, or citizen facilitation services, and we certainly want to benefit from that,” Atif Khan, the science and technology minister in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of Pakistan Tech Summit recently held in Istanbul.

The event was attended by more than 200 tech leaders and experts from Pakistan and Turkey.

“Introducing technology into your government functions increases efficiency, and decreases corruption … Pakistan would like to benefit from Turkey’s experience in digital governance, and making things paperless … The citizens have to get the advantage of technology,” he said.

Khan said his government is “focusing on providing those facilities to our citizens.”

Turkey launched in 2008 e-Devlet (e-Government), an electronic system providing citizens access to government services.

One can get information about the government and its various offices and programs (both national and local), pay taxes and other bills, apply for motor vehicle registration, and create and download official documents related to social security and health care, criminal and judicial record, etc.

Connecting Pakistan digitally

Pakistan is also gradually moving toward the path of implementation of e-governance.

The National Information Technology Board (NITB), formed in 2014, facilitates federal ministries to improve information and service delivery, efficiency, and transparency. Its featured projects include computerization of the Prime Minister’s Office, and E-office – an app developed to help government departments go paperless, among others.

The government also launched the Digital Pakistan initiative in 2018 “to promote connectivity,” and “improving digital infrastructure.”

The Digital Media Wing was created to “disseminate digital media content from Government of Pakistan, Federal Ministries and Prime Minister’s Office official social media accounts.”

Khan said the focus of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party is to “connect Pakistan digitally.”

“We have created the Universal Services Fund to digitally connect and provide internet facilities to far-flung areas of Pakistan, spending billions of rupees to connect the cities which do not have internet,” he said.

“We are trying to connect most of our population through the internet. The importance of it, or technology as a whole, is that you must have trained human resources,” he said.

According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the percentage of broadband internet users in Pakistan is 49.08% – 108 million subscribers.

Khan said trained human resource and quality training allows one to “do business at the international level.”

“We are training our youth in the tech sector … For example, in the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence or deep learning. These are the fields which we are working aggressively to train our youth so that they get employed, get jobs, or to have their own startups or companies to compete internationally,” he added.

He said the government’s focus on the IT sector has led to an increase of 47% exports in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The growth is also attributed to the coronavirus-induced surge in freelancing activities, i.e. the gig economy.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, Amazon formally added Pakistan to its sellers list, enabling to sell on the e-commerce platform.

The minister said the two-day summit held at the Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University was a good opportunity to cement relations between Pakistan and Turkey.

“Government-to-government contacts are obviously there, but people-to-people contacts, business-to-business contacts are a must,” he added.

He said since 60% of Pakistan’s population is below the age of 29, “combining technology and the interest of youth in technology is a huge opportunity” for the country.

‘Pakistan, Turkey don’t have a choice but to develop relations’

Praising Turkey’s love and support for Pakistan, Khan said the two countries need to further develop bilateral relations.

“In view of the present international politics, it is not an option anymore to have good relations between Pakistan and Turkey. It is a must.”

“We have to cooperate, we have to go along together,” he said, adding Turkey is a gateway to Europe.

“Both the countries have to benefit …,” he said, calling for more cooperation in tech, trade and defense sectors. “It can be a win-win situation for both Turkish and Pakistani companies. There are so many things where we can collaborate for the survival and the benefit of both of the countries.”

In this regard, the minister said he invited a few Turkish companies for a planned digital youth summit next month in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

“It will be a huge gathering of technology companies, startups, entrepreneurs, investors and is an opportunity to get connected with a number of people at one place, under one roof.”

“Pakistan has around 10 special technology zones with special incentives to any investor from around the world. Ten to 15 years tax holiday and import free equipment and other incentives. So, if any of the technology sector companies want to invest in Pakistan, I think it’s an opportunity which people must avail,” he said.

He said Turkey can also invest in Pakistan’s growing tourism sector, adding that Pakistan is a “safe country.”

Urges non-interference in Afghanistan

The minister from the province that shares its borders with Afghanistan also spoke on recent developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have formed an interim government after 20 years of war.

He urged non-interference, saying: “Afghans have their own way of life, their own way of practicing religion, but (on) the basic principles or basic human rights, obviously, they should take care of that,” Khan said.

He added there is as an opportunity for peace and development “if the current Taliban government can play its cards well.”

“If they do certain things, obviously, which the world is demanding from them, you see, it is a thin line,” he said.

The minister said China, Pakistan, Iran, and some of the Central Asian countries should “also sit together and try to resolve the problem of Afghanistan.”

“Because, everywhere, even in personal life, you have certain influence or certain challenges from your neighbors,” he said. “And if they are good or bad, it affects you as well.”

“So, keeping in view, the existing situation, Afghanistan and its neighbors should sit together, to have a long-term relationship, and to have peace in Afghanistan,” Khan said.

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