Press Release – Webinar on “COVID19: Use of Technology as a New Normal”

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Press Release

ACDC-ISSI Webinar on “COVID19: Use of Technology as a New Normal”

June 9, 2020

“We need to horizontally scale up our technologies and we need to vertically scale up our digital infrastructure. At the same time, there is also a need to protect these technologies from external threats.” This was stated by Khawaja Mohammad Ali, Chief Information & Cyber Security Officer at Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan (ADBP), Islamabad, in his keynote remarks at the webinar on “COVID19: Use of Technology as a New Normal” held by the Arms Control and Disarmament Centre (ACDC) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) on June 9, 2020.

Khawaja Mohammad Ali further stressed on the importance of indigenisation of emerging technologies to counter pandemics and digital threats in future. However, acquiring a mature indigenised capability is a time-taking process, which requires strategic planning and efficient allocation of resources. He also emphasised on adopting a regional approach, forming win-win partnerships with friendly countries and smart engagement with global tech giants in the field of research and development.

While welcoming the guests, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, said that COVID19 is not just a pandemic, it is a harbinger of change. Technology will be at the core of post-COVID19 era, which requires rapid adaption of these emerging technologies. Technologies are not just the enabler but a game-changer. However, the factors like digitalisation burden, safety and security in cyberspace must be considered while adapting to this new normal.

Malik Qasim Mustafa, Director Arms Control and Disarmament Centre (ACDC) at the ISSI, in his introductory remarks said that COVID19 has completely transformed the social, political, security and economic aspects of societies across the globe. States are relying on technologies for the continuity of education, health, businesses and governance. This has also increased the stress on global technological infrastructure. This shift from physical to the digital world will not only change the future of emerging technologies but also expose to the new risks, challenges and threats.

Ms. Aamna Rafiq, Research Associate ACDC-ISSI, highlighted the prevailing COVID19 situation in her briefing. She highlighted robotics, drones, online shopping, digital banking, distance learning, work from home, telemedicine, increasing investment in 5G information and communication technologies, supply chain 4.0, 3D printing, online entertainment and using social media platforms as key emerging technological trends due to COVID19. However, these trends will also pose certain challenges in the coming years. These challenges include a slowdown in tech hardware production, industrial shift to automation, health issue, cyber threats and information warfare. She also identified other key issues of public-private partnerships, the need for global cyberspace regime and the impact of these technological trends on military preparedness. 

Mr. Usama Nizamani, Consultant at the Islamabad Policy and Research Institute (IPRI), provided a comprehensive statistical analysis of the digital landscape of Pakistan and also highlighted the impacts of the increasing use of technologies due to COVID19 in Pakistan. He identified the digital divide and digital illiteracy as major challenges to digital inclusion in Pakistan. He stressed that Pakistan must take initiative for growing its number of internet users. Special attention to the utilization of Special Economic Zones and Technology Parks under the CPEC must be given a strategic focus by the government to scale up the manufacturing and assembling of digital and mobile devices.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, highlighted the national security repercussions for states. He said that technologies have taken a new role, which is visible, as well as, controversial. Increasing use of technologies is not only making us more connected but also open to the threats of disinformation and propaganda. COVID19 has sped up the rise of China and Russia while decreasing the role of the US as a world leader. Keeping in view these prevailing trend of great power competition in the global strategic landscape, Pakistan can not move out of traditional military threats. Especially the regional trends in South Asia has also not changed with COVID.  Pakistan is trying to maintain its resilience in the face of the Indian threat of military aggression.

Dr. Harinda Vidanage, Director Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) Colombo, Sri Lanka, explored the prospects of international cooperation in his remarks. He stated that COVID19 has produced a sense of shared vulnerability. Despite this common vulnerability, there is little space for international cooperation. COVID19 has accelerated the existing geopolitical rivalries among great powers. He said that COVID19 is not just a health issue, in fact, it has generated a global crisis by eroding the highly interconnected set of systems. Instead of international cooperation, he stressed on building a sense of shared resilience at a regional level.

Towards the end of the webinar, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BoG ISSI, said that COVID19 pandemic has affected every facet of life. While highlighting the role of technology, he said that emerging technologies are providing innovative solutions for the management of pandemic. These emerging technologies were at their nascent stage and COVID19 has accelerated the pace of their development. The world has now reached a before-and-after moment in the history of technologies. Keeping in view the dual-use of these technologies, he stressed, on the peaceful uses and regulation of these technologies at regional and global levels.