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September 28, 2000

LENGTH: 897 words

HEADLINE: India: How Pak was put on Net


A COUPLE of years ago, I was working on translations of Sindhi Partition poetry for an anthology that was to be published by the Sahitya Akademi.

The collection included work by poets from across the border, and the Akademi required that permission be obtained from the writers concerned before the book could be printed.

Senior Sindhi writers in Mumbai had already warned that authorities in Pakistan often opened mail, especially if it was from India. Attempts to send letters through a visiting Pakistani academic had also drawn a blank. In the end, it was the Internet that came to the rescue - contact was established through e-mail. It was, therefore, with more than the usual interest that I tuned in to CNN and discovered Mr Riz Khan in a Q&A with Mr Imran Anwar, the person who introduced the Internet to Pakistan. Mr Anwar, who set up Pakistan's first Internet Service Provider, had moved to the US in 1989, where he had his first glimpse of the Net, and became aware of its possibilities.

Economies such as Pakistan are considered developing and, in fact, somewhat underdeveloped, Mr Anwar told Mr Khan, because of the lack of communications. It was not just infrastructure and better business opportunities he was hoping to bring to Pakistan; he felt there was a need to "help open people's minds and do away with bigotry" - something that could only be achieved through better contact with the outside world.

Mr Anwar knew what he was talking about from personal experience; as an engineering student in Lahore, he had been the chief organiser of a liberal students' federation, and at the forefront of a student-led movement to restore democracy. "I had the dubious privilege of being accosted by six policemen," he said, "and being shown what abuse of power was all about."

Initially, people scoffed at Mr Anwar when he talked about bringing the Net to Pakistan. They said it would be 10-15 years before people wanted e-mail in that country. Mr Anwar hardly got any cooperation from the authorities - "they even got in the way," he pointed out.

The cost of phone calls did not make things easier; as Mr Khan pointed out, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review, a call from Karachi to Lahore could cost twice as much as a call from New York to Pakistan!

Mr Anwar persisted, however, and according to statistics put out by Q&A, by 1999, there were an estimated 80,000 people on the Net in Pakistan, out of a total of 580,000 who owned personal computers.

Much more needed to be achieved, but at least the breakthrough had been made. (In India, at that time, two million people were on the Net out of the 3.3 million PC-owners. In comparison, in the US, 110 million users had Internet connections out of the 141 million who had computers.)

What made Q&A particularly interesting was the insight it provided into the way people can change the world. Conventionally, we are taught that our eyes must be set on a particular goal, and that we need to move in that direction no matter what, if we want to succeed in life.

Mr Anwar's approach is what he refers to as "planned drifting" - a concept that clearly intrigued Mr Riz Khan.

When you are studying to be an engineer in Lahore, explained Mr Anwar, you are told that you have to move from point A to point B. That is not how the world is going to be changing, though. Mr Anwar believes that to make a difference, you have to give your life and career a certain direction, but be flexible, instead of attuning it towards a fixed business plan or life goal - know the direction, but not the destination. In Mr Anwar's case, the destination turned out to be the world - and what a way he chose to bring it back home!

As the world shrinks and business links between countries become stronger, there is a growing need for information, and new shows are constantly being launched. In India, when the liberalisation process began, and there was a whole new optimistic outlook to the economy, business programming in our country exploded.

When times are bad, as they are right now, the need for information becomes even more vital, and this Sunday STAR News telecast the first edition of Star Business Week. Mr Vikram Chandra, the presenter, a familiar face on STAR News, told us that the programme was about market news, mutual funds, what is hot and what is not, and added: "This week, stocks were definitely, definitely not hot." In fact, he went on to point out it was "probably one of the worst weeks in recent times," with the stock market down a whopping 196 points on Monday, and not looking up for the rest of the week. "We do hope we have slightly better news for you next week," he said at the end of the show.

The programme is telecast at 11-30 a.m., 9 p.m. and midnight on Sundays, and if it is hardcore business news you are looking for - something like a STAR News version of CNBC India's India Business Day - then this is the show you go for. (These days, more often than not, India Business Report, Sundays on BBC World, also produced by NDTV, has a far softer, feature-style approach.)

Meanwhile, you can also look forward to yet another business show from BBC World, Asia Business Report, starting October 2. With CNN having intensified its Asian programming, including business some time ago, it is surprising BBC took so long to respond.

Menka Shivdasani Newswire

LOAD-DATE: September 28, 2000