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Pakistan’s greatest asset?

Unspun, together with Hanny Kusumawati and Anandita Puspitasari, were invited to participate in Pakistan’s 1st Social Media Summit on June 11 in Karachi. We didn’t know what to expect and was bushwacked by a deluge of warm Pakistani hospitality and enthusiasm. Hanny has written here very eloquently about the welcome we got and the feelings it evoked.

US Consul General in Karachi William Martin called the event a social revolution here and there was also TV coverage on the event

Here’s an oped piece I wrote for a Pakistani paper on the day of the summit itself that may, or may not, be published. No news about that and the shelf life is expiring, but the beauty of being a blogger is that you can self publish. So here it is:

Quick, which country am I talking about?

It has a moribund economy and is plagued with endemic corruption, natural disasters, poor tax collection, terrorist bombings and little legal certainty. In addition the government shows little political will to reform matters and the digital broadband is slow, yet it has a nascent but very active online community.

Most Pakistanis, a least those who attended the panel discussion at Pakistan’s 1st International Social Media Summit, thought it was their own country.

I was in fact describing Indonesia – circa 2007.

This was the time just before Indonesia’s economy took off and social media use became so widespread, the country is now being looked up to for clues on how to use social media for business and social movement purposes, and how individual members of the online community could monetize their online efforts.

But I could just easily have been describing Pakistan today.

It faces much of the same circumstances that Indonesia faced then, and the possible bright future that awaited Indonesia subsequently. Pakistan, from what I was able to gather from conversations with many Pakistani bloggers and people over the past 48 hours since our group landed in Karachi, also has a vibrant and online community, eager and hungry to experiment and find contentment if not financial success online.

By coincidence 2007 was the year we first organized Pesta Blogger giving bloggers throughout Indonesia an opportunity to gather, meet and exchange ideas offline. Many of the meetings resulted in projects and collaborations. It also spawned new communities to support and encourage each other on. These weren’t the sole reasons but it helped Indonesia develop into the social media powerhouse it is today, and with it a new sense of pride and confidence in themselves and their country.

In my conversations with many Pakistanis they were quick to complain about the ills and wrongs of Pakistan. Then I asked them the trick question: If you had only one thing to be bullish about where Pakistan is concerned, what would it be?

They thought and scratched their heads but the predominant answer I get from then is the people.

Pakistanis, they said, at the end of the day are a warm, generous and hospital people and although their may fight among themselves they will not hesitate to come together as a people and achieve great things.

And there you have it.

Pakistan may have many problems but it also has a great asset that is yet to be realized and untapped: its people, with the onliners at the fore because this is where change will happen.

The Social Media Summit has brought the Pakistani online community together for the first time. Hopefully this will lead to the collaboration and camaraderie that we saw in Indonesia.

If this can happen then the online community can perhaps help influence the future history of Pakistan for the better. Pakistan has many good and powerful stories to tell, to the world at large, but more importantly to itself. It has all it takes to move forward, the community now just needs to work together and believe in its greatest asset.

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