By Habib R. Sulemani
Pakistan has started a big and difficult journey on the ‘Cyber Highway.’ Today some 450 cities and towns of Pakistan are connected to the World Wide Web and more connections are expected. Looking at the discussions in the corridors of power, it seems as e-commerce and e-governments are evolving out of the tradition — almost all of the main government departments, organisations and institutions have now their own websites and the concept of "paper free office" will become a reality very soon.
During the 2000 presidential elections in the United States of America (USA), the Internet was used as a tool for electoral campaigns for the first time in history, and it is really amazing that within two years’ time it was fallowed in Pakistan, where in the general elections of 2002, some political parties used this new tool (Internet) for their election campaigns, and now are also using it for political gains. Indeed it is a big change in the approach of politicians and policy makers. From this point, it is crystal clear that Internet’s role in the next elections will become vital, because, the cyber community or ‘netizens’ are increasing rapidly in number.
Not only in Pakistan but also throughout the Third World countries Internet has opened many doors of opportunities. For the conservative traditionalists, it has made life difficult but for the majority, especially the young ones, it has provided a chance to achieve their dreams. They think it a blessing which has exposed everything to them. Many activists, religious and political leaders have chosen to use the net to help and strengthen their fellows or followers.
There were cyber-communities but now virtual countries have also taken birth. Thus a new style of politics has started in the world we live in today. Each day, more and more people are reaching out to join the cyber world. Our behaviour, everyday life and the entire sociology are changing at this primary stage of the 21st century. Thus there are many a great challenges to the mankind as a whole. The Internet has played a vital part making the people aware about human rights, peace, environmental issues, terrorism, and other social problems. It has provided a new way for businessmen to reach their wanted markets.
Once there was a trend to become ‘doctor’ or ‘engineer’. Then came the ‘MBA-boom’ and now there is the information technology (IT) euphoria. Everywhere IT institutions are mushrooming and big cities are special targets for those who want to make smart money out of this boom. Thus bogus IT institutes and ‘plaza universities’ are emerging rapidly. These fake educational institutes (without proper facilities and non-qualified staff) are making huge money as the MBA institutions set a trend for them. Thus half literate so-called ‘IT specialists’ are coming out of these institutions, adding to the unemployed lot of the country. Therefore, all of the changes in our society can’t be viewed favourably.
The Internet is both dangerous and helpful just like any tool or instrument. To avoid any misshape, social awareness about this new medium is a must. Copyrights and security problems, especially cyber crimes are emerging on the surface. After some unpleasant events, Pakistan has finally formed a ‘cyber police’ to counter heinous crimes committed through the Internet. It is said that recently some ‘al-Qaeda’ suspects were caught only because of their ‘cyber activities’.
Pakistan has taken a good initiative in the direction of information technology but there is a long way to go. Today there is this impression that the aggressive start of Prof Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman as a federal minister of science and technology has become slow now. This is a challenge for his young successor Awais Leghari. A failure in the field of IT will have dire consequences for the future of this nation. If the government wants to see Pakistan on the ‘cyber map’ of the world like India, then it should do some basic things:-
• The government must attract investors in cyber (IT) projects.
• Make sure that quality IT education is provided to the students who are paying heavy fees.
• Keep a check on fake institutions and the rule and regulations of the Higher Education Authority must be followed strictly.
• Telephone and Internet services should be available at every corner of the country and there should be reduction in the rates/bills. For the far-flung rural parts of the country, like Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan etc, there must be a special rebate in the bills so that the poor are practically involved in e-business and other cyber activities to change their lifestyle.
• The ministries and other government-owned organisations should maintain and regularly updated their websites so that there is a good impression on the visitors especially from foreign countries.
• Computers and other IT related tools should be available at cheap rates so that common people’s reach is made possible to the new way of life.
(Note: this article was going to be a paper on sociology of cyber age in Pakistan, but The News International, Islamabad, published it as a column on October 23, 2003 with the headline: Pakistan on the cyber map. It relates to our country's current situation even today.--The Terrorland Team)