As the famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “There is nothing permanent, but change”. Technology, particularly Information Communications Technology (ICT), is changing at an even rapid pace.
This requires constant adaption and updation of Policies, Laws, Rules and Regulations, with the responsibility falling on the shoulders of the Government and the Regulator. But people in the Government are being pulled daily in all directions, by all kinds of vested interests – some good, some not so good. Government officials need to ponder over the challenges brought about by all types of changes but, due to numerous constraints, find it difficult, and lag behind. This sometimes leads to inappropriate decisions, taken in a reactive mode. Even otherwise, in most developing countries, where things are not always too well organized, the bureaucrats (and also the technocrats) have to cope with all kinds of unexpected situations, most of time putting them in a “fire fighting” mode. Hence depth of thinking suffers. That is where the role of independent “Think Tanks” emerges.
A Think Tank (or Policy Forum, Research Institute, etc.) is an entity where mature experts and academicians ‘think’ on issues based on their study and research. Typically a think tank provides independent and neutral opinions and recommendations to the stakeholders (including the Government), in the best interest of the country, the citizens, the society, and the sector. Think tanks also endeavor to involve ordinary citizens by making them understand how Government’s policies impact them, providing analysis and constructive critiques of Policies and Legislation/Regulation. Independent think tanks are mostly non-profit entities and funded either by the Governments, or by advocacy groups, or by development-sector donor organizations. Think tanks also generate own revenues through research work and output studies that they carry out in their respective fields.
In Pakistan the Telecom Sector’s Policy, Governance, Regulation and Operations are clearly separated – thanks to the terms of WTO Commitments of 1997 (an instrument under UN Charter). Each actor performs its respective role.
The Government formulates policies and legislation; The Regulator (PTA) implements Policies within the given framework and rules; and the Industry (almost all of it in private hands) runs the Operations. But despite the fact that there are around 50 think tanks in the country, some of them internationally recognized as very good, hardly any one of them is dedicated to the subject of ICT-for-development, or deals with ICT on an exclusive basis. This is what prompted us – a group of experienced ICT professionals with an urge to pay back to the nation and the community – to form a think tank dedicated to ICT for development in Pakistan.