Newspaper Article 30/11/2022
Geopolitics has transcended the domain of cloud computing, where today, decisions on politics, economy, and policymaking are all based on the systems of cloud computing. While the great power rivalry between the United States and China continues to morph into new realities on the ground, the clouds aren’t far from it either. The implications of cloud computing now merged with increasingly volatile geopolitical environments are less of a figment of our imagination and more of a reality that we are yet to process in its entirety. If previously, middle-power and small-power countries were following the rules set by superpowers, today, we chase tech and cloud-based corporations and giants for influence and relevance. Essentially, cloud computing has altered the existing patterns of international relations, whereby data, data sovereignty, data rights, and data security have become the core components upon which states now interact with each other.
The rivalry between the United States and China is more of a technology war than it is a trade war; it is a quest to dominate tech-oriented supply chains and to build a resilient economic and geopolitical base on the foundation of tech superiority. The rise of disruptive technologies is adding to the political destabilization we see on the global stage today. The technological decoupling that started during the Trump administration is vehemently being pursued by the Biden administration as well. On October 7, the US Department of Commerce released a new set of rules banning US tech giants from exporting high-tech infrastructure used for making advanced computers and chips to China. Semiconductor industries in this day and age are as important as a country’s sovereignty. Such actions reflect the deepening of geopolitical schisms and their potential to disrupt the tech industries as well.
The rise of disruptive technologies is adding to the political destabilization we see on the global stage today.
Such developments are important to understand the general trends in the tech world and also what it means for countries that think tech may help balance between the two cloud service giants. It is self-explanatory thus, that cloud computing giants are geopolitical since these service providers function neither as a democracy nor as a monolith as the decision-making is dispersed between competitive blocs some influenced by the business units, military complex, the vested interests of c-suite leaders and some influenced by the political coalitions. These political coalitions influence service providers to reconsider their relationships with vendors and clients with the deepening geopolitical schism, also opening space for debate on data governance. When such intensification of geopolitics impacts tech and cloud giants, it is also disruptive towards the tech policymaking circles. To a certain degree, the US-China decoupling has provided space to other actors like those in Europe and Asia to expand and innovate to self-produce cloud computing ecosystems yet the real test lies for those countries that are yet to establish themselves in this industry, making it difficult for them to strategically navigate through the great power competition.
Amidst these rapid developments, Pakistan stands in the middle. Many scholars have offered technological cooperation to be the balancing tact to manoeuvre the great power competition. Pakistan is fairly new to the world of technology and tech innovation. As Pakistan opens up to digital transformation, cloud infrastructure becomes more and more relevant to such an ecosystem. Pakistan is putting its best foot forward to avoid bloc politics as it pursues a path to digital transformation. In February 2022, the Ministry of Information Technology and Communication put forward the Cloud First Policy with a bold vision for the “digital transformation of Pakistan by optimized ICT spending, efficient utilization of latest cloud-based technologies, swift delivery of citizen services, better governance, increased collaboration among the government organs and enhanced transparency and accountability.”
Currently, Pakistan lacks the capacity for effective data management due to the fragmented cloud infrastructure and lack of technical competencies, moreover, it has yet to make it to Asia’s cloud readiness index unlike other regional countries like India and Indonesia. While Technology may be the way forward to Pakistan’s internal dilemmas to answer its economic woes, it is yet to become a policy tool to mitigate its foreign policy challenges stemming from the US-China competition. So, the proposition that technology will help Pakistan win its geopolitical dilemmas may not be the case given the context given earlier. Unfortunately, Pakistan lacks capabilities in the emerging realities fueled by cloud computing and emerging technologies, thus, making it a taker of rules instead of a maker of rules- having to rely on the rules established by one of the two competing powers. Pakistan is open to accepting US and Chinese critical infrastructures on its soil but both countries are apprehensive about data security and other cybersecurity concerns. The parallel structures are bound to create friction for the country as it is bound to create massive shifts in the socio-political landscape that will have implications for Pakistan’s statecraft trajectory. More importantly, the interoperability of this hybrid system is likely to create more challenges for Pakistan instead of making it a neutral hub where the US-China technology decoupling diffuses into stable cooperation.
While the China-Pakistan-Economic- Corridor (CPEC) offers Pakistan direct entry into China’s digital silk route, Pakistan may not be interested in pursuing this route at the expense of its ties with the US. Yet it is also important to emphasize that Pakistan was the first country to accept the Chinese Beidou system. These are tough decisions for a country that desperately needs to secure employment and economic security for its young population, also one that is aspiring to become part of the world of tech and innovation.
Political clout and cooing may not be enough to tread safely in the world of planetary computation, one that is quickly being politicized. Until and unless the country’s policymakers don’t redirect the vision and practice towards a digital transformation keeping in check the local and foreign policy needs, it is hard to say how long Pakistan can stand the middle ground amidst these tensions.
Note: This article appeared in Daily Times, dated 30 November 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.