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Global Tech Giants Looking to Set up Shop at Islamabad Technopolis

If done right, the STZs could make Pakistan an ICT powerhouse within a few years.

Several global tech giants including over a dozen Fortune 500 companies are scrambling to book a berth at Islamabad Technopolis,    a 140-acre Special Technology Zone being set up in the federal capital by Pakistan’s new-fangled Special Technology Zones Authority (STZA), The Truth International (TTI) has learnt.

“Very positive and encouraging response is coming for the Islamabad Technopolis”, says Chairman STZA, Amer Hashmi. Zone developers will build the large land parcels within a zone so the multiple zone developers have shown their response and Zone enterprisers are small and large companies will do business in the STZs.

Billion-dollar ICT companies are said to be among those seeking a plot of land within the 140 acres of land earmarked for Islamabad Technopolis. Hashmi said market response is phenomenal and several large ICT companies have shown interest in building their own buildings.

Global companies from Fortune 100 about 15 are serious and five are already committed to Islamabad Technopolis.

The STZA is looking to setup Special Technology Zones across the country as part of Pakistan’s drive to establish knowledge economy cities. The STZA is planning to establish twelve STZs across Pakistan over one year. Some 70 technologies have been listed for STZs. However, only existing IT companies are eligible for allotment of space at subsidized rates at STZs.

Applications have started to arrive for space at Islamabad Technopolis and out of them 50 EOI have been submitted.

Hashmi says technology is important and knowledge creation is where economic growth takes place. Pakistan has never concentrated on the knowledge. If tech were not to produce knowledge then we would reconsider if we need STZs. So tech innovation entrepreneurship equals a knowledge economy which will allow Pakistan to have higher exports.

STZA national rolling out strategy for STZs consists of two components. One of these is identifying land parcels which will become tech clusters of the future. These will be built through Public Private Partnership

(PPP) model. The second component is identification of existing infrastructure and buildings to be modified as zones.

Amer Hashmi says: “The main objective of the STZs will be to create million of jobs for the age of 35 or 30 years people. It will stop brain drain from Pakistan”.

Amer Hashmi is of the view that STZs should be established on war footings. Japan, Korea, Philippines, China’s Shenzhen, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Hong Kong present glowing example of how to do this. India has 350 STZS.

The STZA board chair says license fee is waived of for startups. Application fee is very minimal. Startups can come in to STZs free of cost. Large startups which are in cluster can be given five acre of land. A ten-year tax holiday will be provided for the IT industry.

The idea is to commercialize knowledge-based outputs that will only happen when strong linkages are built between startups and SMES.

While elaborating the target of STZA, Amer Hashmi told that if we can get a billion dollar worth of government projects out there and we can convince PPRA to make three or four where we can quickly move on with transparency award contracts and get STZs in the cities by 30 June 2022 we can expect six billion dollars worth of domestic sales and exports companies based at these STZs, enabling Pakistan’s economy to score exponential growth.In India, First Tech SEZs were started in late 80s and early 90s. ICT circles are surprised that it’s just being debated in Pakistan.

Technology expert Habibullah Khan said, “For the first time I can breathe and say that there is a plan by people who get it. Execution is everything. There will be course corrections but there is an organization that owns a critical national innovation journey”.

Members of the board

The STZA board of directors consists of eleven members, six of whom represent the private sector including industries like Banking, Finance, Insurance, and Medical Education.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is the President of the STZA Board. Minister for Finance & Revenue Mr. Shaukat Tarin; Federal Minister for Industries & Production Mr. Khusro Bakhtiar; Federal Minister for IT and Telecom Mr. Syed Aminul Haque; and SAPM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Dr. Sania Nishtar are on the board of STZA.

Appointed a member of the STZA board of directors, Mr. Sikandar Mustafa Khan is the Chairman of Millat Group of Companies. He is also the Vice Chairman of Board of Governors at NAMAL Institute.

Another board member, Ms. Maheen Rahman is the Chief Executive Officer of Infra ZaminPakistan, a first-of-its-kind for-profit credit enhancement facility in Pakistan. She previously served as the Chief Executive at Alfalah GHP Investment Management for seven years. With twenty

years of experience in investment banking and asset management under her belt, she has established herself as one of the most successful investment bankers in the country.

Toronto-based family physician and continuing medical education (CME) lecturer Dr. Shafiq Qaadri is also on the board. A true jack of all trades, he served as an MPP in the province of Ontario for 15 years and was the first Pakistani-Canadian to be elected to Parliament in the Province of Ontario.

Another board member is Mr. Ashar Nazim, the Group CEO of the Bahrain-based AionDigital. The company has enabled a virtual banking market for over 34 million GCC nationals. Mr. Nazim is also on the Board of Directors of Waqfe WLL, Spire Technologies Limited, and Finocracy – all FinTech companies in the GCC.

Mr. Noorur Rahman is another board member. He has more than 35 years’ experience in the Accounting & Auditing profession, across Europe, Middle East and Africa, of which the last 25 years have been in various leadership roles as Assurance Leader for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Audit Partner for clients ranging from investment companies, private equity houses, commercial banks, Islamic banks, government ministries, regulators, commercial entities and manufacturing industries. He is at the board of STZA.

Also on the board is Mr. Nazar Zaidi, Senior Vice President of Cores, Server SoC Systems IP Engineering, Technology and Engineering at AMD. Since joining AMD in 2016, he has successfully guided the delivery of AMD’s award-winning multi-generational “Zen” x86 CPU family.

Criticism of the STZA board

Pakistan’s bourgeoning ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector is perturbed over the formation of Special Technology Zones Authority (STZA) board of directors, with several prominent players

objecting to the inclusion of some members who neither have ICT background nor do they represent the industry.

Reservations have been voiced in particular over Mr. Amer Hashmi being handed the prize appointment of Chairman STZA Board, with everybody demanding inclusion of IT professionals who have demonstrated experience of the sector to promote IT industry in the country and create an enabling ecosystem for the professionals.

Industry circles say the STZA is allotting land to big companies at a subsidized rate. ICT professionals fear the STZs will become a real estate investment plan unless IT industry is given priority and taken on board. It is requisite that the rent and rate of land should not be less than half of the market value.

Another commonly voiced complaint is that the STZA is neglecting local industry, with local ICT companies not being allotted space.

STZA response to criticism

While answering the objections over the composition of board of STZA, Hashmi says there are lots of questions about the composition of the board but the board has independent members, one of whom is from Silicon Valley.

He said, “STZA board is designed not with just tech people but with people who know governance, who have a global network, and who understand how technology can help the nation”.

Head of Marketing and PR STZA, Hina Nasir says, “In Pakistan you will not find a person who has experience of establishing special technology zone and is not taken on board of directors”.

She denied the reservations of local companies and said that “There is no discrimination with local companies if they qualify according to the rules of STZA”.

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