Leaping Forward

The Pakistan- KSA IT cooperation is not just about infrastructure and investments; a key focus has been on enhancing human capital.

In recent years, states have strived to harness digital innovation’s potential, transforming the global information technology (IT) landscape. One notable example is the strengthening of IT cooperation between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). This has been spearheaded by the LEAP technology conferences, held in Riyadh, KSA which are dubbed the Digital Davos as they are attended by hundreds of tech firms from across the world.

Pakistani IT companies generated leads worth over $100 million during last year’s event. Subsequently, in March LEAP 2024 served as a pivotal platform for globally marketing the potential of Pakistan’s IT firms; showcased by a large contingent of 74 entities, underlining the trend of Pakistan’s increasing engagement with KSA on IT.

Additionally, the Pakistan pavilion highlighted the country’s rapidly advancing IT ecosystem and signified its commitment to positioning itself as a tech hub in the region. It also facilitated meaningful interactions with industry leaders and potential investors. These engagements were crucial for opening new avenues for collaboration and attracting foreign investment to fuel Pakistan’s digital growth.

For instance, noteworthy agreements were inked during LEAP 2024, such as the MOU between the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) and the IT Association of Bahrain, and the equity partnership between SuperNova Solutions and a Saudi investor group which underscores the growing confidence in Pakistan’s IT capabilities and are tangible manifestations of IT cooperation between the two states.

These partnerships are not only providing Pakistani start-ups with the necessary capital to scale up their operations but are also offering access to the vast Saudi market and beyond as multilateral forums such as the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) also aim to augment the bilateral digital cooperation between the two states.

It is also worth noting that KSA’s ambitious Vision 2030 is underpinned by digital transformation, creating an attractive market for Pakistan’s growing digital sector. This is supported by reports that Pakistan’s IT exports to KSA have increased by up to $100 million in the past two years. 

Therefore, as KSA increasingly becomes the flag bearer of Pakistan’s IT capabilities, the overall digital ecosystem in Pakistan is poised to experience accelerated international outreach. This would be aligned with the strategic objective of the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) and PASHA to promote Pakistan as an internationally attractive “Tech Destination”.

Moreover, the establishment of the Saudi-Pakistan Tech House would further this objective. It was announced in March 2023 by Prince Fahad bin Mansour Al Saud and will focus on talent development and capacity building by having its first branch in Lahore. This initiative was launched with a $100 million investment and is expected to create over 1,000 jobs. Hence, by creating a platform for joint ventures, the Tech House is set to catalyse growth in the IT sectors of both states and facilitate the exchange of human capital. Indeed, the Pakistan-KSA IT cooperation is not just about infrastructure and investments; a key focus has been on enhancing human capital. 

On its end, Pakistan has recently strived to ensure that its 75,000 IT annual graduates are prepared for current industry trends to meet the demands of KSA’s Vision 2030 projects. This will not only aid in realising the Kingdom’s ambitious development goals but also provide valuable employment opportunities for Pakistani professionals, thereby contributing to the economic development of both states.

To this end, an MOU was signed in October 2023 to facilitate small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and create a special desk for streamlining the registration of Pakistani IT firms to KSA. This underscored the bilateral recognition of the critical role start-ups and SMEs will play in driving digital innovation. By laying the groundwork for these entities to thrive, Pakistan and KSA are thus nurturing the seeds of future technological breakthroughs that could have multi-sectoral benefits. 

For instance, by collaborating on projects related to e-health, e-education and e-governance, Pakistan can accelerate its digitalisation efforts and enhance the quality of life for its citizens. Pakistan should hence capitalise on the momentum in IT cooperation and leverage the financial backing of the KSA via the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) for expediting such projects as the Kingdom recently planned to become the world’s largest player in AI, with an initial investment of more than $40 billion.

To conclude, while Pakistan’s IT cooperation with KSA is on an upward trajectory, navigating the opportunities and challenges in the digital frontier will require concerted efforts from all stakeholders. In this regard, it is commendable that during a meeting with a high-level IT delegation on March 28, Pakistan’s new IT Minister, Shaza Fatimah, assured that the government will facilitate the increase of IT exports by cultivating the youth. Certainly, the untapped potential of Pakistan’s promising IT talent should be harnessed to materialise Pakistan’s envisioned digital aspirations and further strengthen the IT partnership with KSA.

Mustafa Bilal

The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at info@ casslhr.com

Mustafa Bilal
The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at info@casslhr.com

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