Beijing: While China has promised to enhance its cooperation for the ambitious Digital Silk Road (DSR) project, Pakistan's low digital economy and shortage of digital talent are putting major roadblocks in the realisation of the project.

During the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) international cooperation summit forum in 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping had proposed to enhance cooperation with Pakistan in vast areas of digital economy, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum computing, reported Islam Khabar.

There were a few attractive takeaways for Pakistan in China's DSR pitch. However Pakistan needs to look into its broken digital architecture which is not in alignment with China's Digital Silk Road hopes.

There is a wide gap in Pakistan's digital progress in terms of gender. There are cultural barriers and terrorism. All of this is a setback for Pakistan. Though China has sold dreams to Pakistan under DSR there are hard facts which prove that the plan is farfetched.

Pakistan's overall GDP is USD 280 billion and the per capita GDP of less than USD 1,400, according to World Bank data 2021. With this low level of an economic base, the situation is wary for Pakistan to be able to play a similar kind of role as China in the DSR project.

Pakistan and China may target for same goals but the ground reality continues to be in stark contrast. Be it economic development, digital infrastructure, internet penetration and the size of online commerce-- all of these parameters are very different for each of the countries.

The digital gender gap in Pakistan's society is particularly striking. It is mainly attributed to low level of female literacy, insufficient ICT skills and low affordability. In 2021, Pakistan had more than 100 million mobile broadband subscribers of which only 21 million were females, reported Islam Khabar.

Female usage of digital services are not same as that of the male counterpart. There is perceived safety and security and households do not approve of the use of the internet by females. This makes women's participation in digital activities small.

There are about 46 million social media users in the country, with male facebook users being five times more than female ones; indicating a 70 PC gender gap here, according to the data quotes by the media portal.

According to State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) data, only 29 per cent of adult women have a bank account, 25 per cent have a cell phone. Only 18 per cent of the women have a corresponding digital bank account and the gender gap indigital finance stands at 64 per cent.

Even though Pakistan is trying to move towards digital economy, cash remains the primary mode of payment. Almost all retailers and suppliers feels that cash transactions are safer than online ones.

Most wages and salaries are still being paid in cash. This is created a significant hurdle in giving an impetus to the digital economy.

With this poor state of affairs of Pakistan's digital economy and activities, cooperation with China offers no immediate fix for it. If one really wants to resolve these key issues, there is an immediate need of training of professionals at a large scale. However, this too will take years.

Cyber attacks in Pakistan are also rampant. Various institutions and citizens become frequent victims of cyber attacks. This exposes the poor state of IT system. Not even the government institutions are spared. Instances of government websites being hacked and sensitive data stolen by foreign actors are getting more common.

There are already concerns that China may deploy DSR to impose its model of technology-enabled authoritarianism on its un-equal BRI partners. However, China's all whether friend Pakistan can only play a role alongside Beijing is it first pay heed to its own broken digital infrastructure.