Pacific Money

Pakistan’s Quantum Quest: Hurdles and Hopes

Recent Features

Pacific Money | Economy | South Asia

Pakistan’s Quantum Quest: Hurdles and Hopes

The establishment of the National Center for Quantum Computing could be a critical step – if Pakistan can overcome economic constraints and a significant brain drain. 

Pakistan’s Quantum Quest: Hurdles and Hopes
Credit: Depositphotos

Pakistan is poised to make significant strides in the field of quantum technology with the establishment of its National Center for Quantum Computing, as announced by Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal. This initiative marks a critical step toward overcoming the global quantum divide – if Pakistan can overcome the associated challenges, including economic constraints and a significant brain drain. 

Globally, the quantum technology market is expected to burgeon, reaching an estimated $106 billion by 2040. This growth is fueled by robust investments, with private investors pouring $1.5 billion into quantum startups in 2023 alone. Public sector investment has also been significant, surpassing $38 billion globally. The United States, European Union, and Canada collectively committed over $3 billion in 2022. China leads the way with a staggering $15.3 billion total investment.

Despite these global advancements, a significant quantum divide exists, as the majority of countries lack national quantum initiatives. This divide creates substantial disparities in technological capabilities and economic opportunities. Countries without robust quantum technology infrastructures are at risk of falling behind, facing increased cyber vulnerabilities, and struggling to compete in the global economy.

For Pakistan, this divide is particularly concerning. Kaspersky Lab has ranked Pakistan among the most unprotected countries in terms of cybersecurity, highlighting the urgent need for improved defenses as countries venture into the quantum technology domain.

India’s ambitious quantum initiatives further underscore the challenges facing Pakistan. India’s investment in quantum technology not only bolsters its technological capabilities but also poses a strategic challenge to Pakistan. India has also announced its National Quantum Mission, investing approximately $740 million over eight years. In addition, India is also cooperating with the United States, Australia, and Russia on quantum technology, forging strategic partnerships to enhance its capabilities and position in the global quantum landscape.

The Indian Army’s emphasis on integrating quantum computing into its defense systems highlights the potential for a significant shift in the regional balance of power. Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir has acknowledged these developments, emphasizing the importance of Pakistan’s investment in quantum computing to maintain its strategic equilibrium.

However, Pakistan’s efforts to establish a successful quantum initiative are hindered by several challenges. The most pressing issue is the ongoing brain drain. From 1971 to 2022, over 6 million highly qualified and skilled professionals emigrated from Pakistan, including doctors, engineers, and IT experts. In 2022 alone, 92,000 highly educated professionals left the country, with nearly 200,000 people emigrating in the first three months of 2023. This trend poses a substantial challenge to Pakistan’s efforts to build and sustain a robust quantum technology sector.

In a country where illiteracy rates are high and educational standards are low, the mass exodus of young and educated professionals is particularly troubling. According to the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, 67 percent of Pakistani youths want to leave the country. This statistic underscores the difficulty of retaining talent and bringing back professionals from abroad to work on quantum initiatives. The challenge is further compounded by Pakistan’s economic situation. The country is currently under an IMF program, which imposes stringent financial constraints and increases the risks associated with investing in high-cost technologies like quantum computing.

Pakistan’s startup culture also lags behind many regional counterparts, facing numerous challenges that make private investment in quantum initiatives difficult. Quantum computers and the technology needed to operate them are currently very expensive. Basic quantum processors can cost millions of dollars, and the cooling systems required to maintain quantum computers – often near absolute zero temperatures – add to the cost. Establishing quantum computing labs in universities is also challenging, as many public sector universities struggle just to pay salaries to their employees.

Given these hurdles, Pakistan can leverage the United Nations’ declaration of 2025 as the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology. This global recognition provides an opportunity for Pakistan to seek U.N. assistance in enhancing its quantum infrastructure. International cooperation with leading quantum technology nations like the United States and China can provide the necessary expertise, resources, and technological know-how to accelerate Pakistan’s quantum technology development. Furthermore, improving education, creating economic opportunities, and fostering a national innovation system are critical steps that Pakistan must take.

In conclusion, establishing the National Center for Quantum Computing is pivotal for Pakistan, offering a path to bridge the quantum divide. Despite economic constraints, brain drain, and cybersecurity challenges, fostering international cooperation and retaining talent can secure Pakistan’s quantum future, promising industrial growth, job creation, and enhanced security.