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Pakistan’s Internet Landscape: A Dismal Picture of Digital Governance and Access in 2022

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Pakistan continues to be one of the worst performers in terms of internet access and digital governance, according to a comprehensive report titled ‘Pakistan’s Internet Landscape 2022’ authored by Chief Digital Strategist and Editor at Dawn.com Jahanzaib Haque and released by human rights and advocacy organization Bytes For All. The report highlights that approximately 15% of Pakistan’s population lacks access to the internet and mobile or telecom services, while the rest suffers through slow speeds and a lack of consistency in services. The report also points out that Pakistan ranked last out of 22 countries in Asia overall, and 79 globally across the key indicators of availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness, according to the Inclusive Internet Index of 2022 commissioned by Meta and executed by Economist Impact.

The report reveals that women in Pakistan face significant challenges regarding internet access, with only half of them owning a mobile phone compared to over 75% of men. The report also highlights the impact of catastrophic floods in the second half of 2022, which severely damaged the telecom and internet infrastructure, leaving thousands of flood-affected individuals and relief workers without means of communication during the emergency and for some time after. Furthermore, the report’s findings concluded that cybercrime in Pakistan saw a steady rise, with over 100,000 complaints registered by December 2022, marking the highest number in the last five years. Women also continue to face widespread harassment and blackmail online.

The report highlights the disinformation operations originating in India targeting Pakistan, with disinformation proliferating online, reaching new levels of sophistication and influence. The report also discusses the state’s efforts to control the online space, including filing cases against journalists, activists, and political opponents for expressing unfavorable views on social media. The report also states that attempts were made to pass stricter defamation laws to suppress dissent.

The local e-commerce and fintech sectors experienced negative trends due to the global economic downturn and Pakistan’s own crises, the report said. However, internet banking transactions witnessed a steep rise of 51.7% in the fiscal year 2022, reflecting the growing adoption of digital financial services in Pakistan. According to the report, internet banking users increased by almost 60% to 3.1 million in the past year.

The report highlights that despite some gains in internet access and digital governance, Pakistan remains among the worst performers globally. The report emphasizes the need for the government and private sector to address the challenges faced by Pakistan in terms of internet access and digital governance, especially in promoting inclusivity, digital literacy, and closing the gender gap.

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