Pakistan Aims to Double IT Industry in Two Years With Tech Zones

Pakistan is looking to double its IT industry in two years by setting up dedicated tech zones across the country, after missing out on tech booms that helped nations like India and Philippines become back-end operators for the world.

The world’s fifth most populous nation expects to open a dozen such zones by next year, said Amer Hashmi, who heads the government body responsible for developing science and technology zones. It’s offering a 10-year waiver on corporate tax and imports of any equipment or building material needed for the areas, which will give Pakistan’s IT industry a “catapult push” that could double its size to as much as $6 billion in two years, he added.

Pakistan is banking on the new tech zones to create employment for its masses of young people — nearly two-thirds of its population is below 30. It’s already home to the third-largest gig economy globally after India and Bangladesh, according to Online Labor Index by Oxford Internet Institute. A flood of overseas capital into startups from fintech to e-commerce that began during the coronavirus pandemic is also creating demand for dedicated zones to serve these industries.

The initiative first emerged after Prime Minister Imran Khan sought answers at a meeting last year as to why Pakistan was missing out on the tech boom. Tapping on his own experience as an entrepreneur, Hashmi told the prime minister that the South Asian nation lacked a tech eco-system or an enabling environment.

Hashmi, who left his job with International Business Machines Corp. in Canada and moved back to Pakistan to open a technology company, had to grapple with people asking for bribes and faced delays with setting up his own fiber network and data centers. The new areas will not have such issues and will be a plug-and-play model, he said.

“How do you get a Google or Microsoft or Amazon? You attract them and for that you have to give special incentives, which well I think we would have probably been the last in the region to give,” Hashmi, now chairman of Special Technology Zones Authority, said in an interview. “Dubai Internet City gave them. They got all the big companies.”