IMAGE BUILDING IMPERATIVE FOR PAKISTAN
FOZIA ISHAQUE (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jan 05 - 18, 2009
Pakistan, never far from the news, has been firmly in the international spotlight since the terrorism attacks spread on a global front. A simple truth in vast regions of Pakistan today is that the state has withered away.
An extended swathe of territory is in the hands of a wide array of anti-state actors, currently engaged in varying degrees of violence and subversion. A cursory look at the map indicates that the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Balochistan are witnessing large-scale violence and insurrection. Terror training camps, violence against women, religious division and insurgency flare-ups are just some of the issues the country is facing.
Pakistan's slide towards state failure accelerated dramatically in year 2007, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27 was a sharp reminder that the country's progressive collapse was much more rapid and irretrievable than most had envisaged. After Mumbai attacks, however, there is another unspoken line of allegations against Pakistan: that we are a state with weak governance where terrorist groups have long run amok.
Enough is enough, now put your house in order, the world led by India and the US is saying to Pakistan. We wish the world, and in particular the US, is not so selective in its memories of what has brought Pakistan to such a pass.
The government wants to dispel the misconception about Pakistan by beefing up its lobbyists. The recent rise in militancy is hurting foreign inflows, and investors are waiting on the sidelines to see if the situation stabilizes. Cultural activities, business and sport have also been affected by fears of terrorism. International cricket teams have threatened to withdraw from touring because of fears of violence, while the shadow of corruption hangs over the investigation of the death of Pakistani cricket coach Bob Woolmer.
In an attempt to run a an image building campaign a contract was signed earlier in 2007 by the Pakistan embassy in Washington with another American lobbying firm "Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide" to improve Pakistan's image in the United States. This was designed to provide media training, guidance, reporter outreach and write press materials for the embassy. However as a matter of fact, Pakistan is increasingly envisaged as the gathering place for global jihadis, as well as a "factory" where future jihadis are being nurtured and shaped in the country's madrassas (seminaries). How can Pakistan change its image in the global arena? It certainly cannot achieve that objective by merely running public relations campaigns or by hiring slick image-makers. Effective public diplomacy requires radical changes in major policies that are the root causes for the bad images that Pakistan has acquired under Musharraf and his predecessors.
OVERVIEW OF THE COUNTRY:
Year 2007-08 unambiguously demonstrated that the flag of extremist Islam continues to flail vigorously and violently across Pakistan, even as state agencies appear less in control, and more vulnerable. Within FATA, terrorist violence and subversion affects all of the seven Agencies - Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan, and South Waziristan - in varying degrees. Past experience in South Asia has shown that the recovery of geographical spaces, once anti-state violence escalates beyond a certain threshold, is extraordinarily difficult.
The Balochistan province - accounting for approximately 44% of Pakistan's landmass - is now afflicted by an encompassing insurgency. Structural and constitutional biases prevailing against the provinces feed popular anger and the insurgencies, and militate against any possible solution to the Baloch problem, particularly given Islamabad's track record of intransigence. Sectarian violence is also the highlight of the problems.
There were 56 suicide attacks in 2007 as against seven in year 2006. Socio economic matrix is no less disappointing. Pakistan's slide is dominated by increasing macro-imbalances, high levels of poverty, and poor human development indicators. A record current account deficit, stagnant exports, an increasing fiscal deficit, social indicators that are still amongst the worst in Asia, an energy shortage and rising inflation with artificially-controlled prices are just a few of the challenges faced by Pakistan's economy.
MENDING THE IMAGE
Owning to Pakistan's negative perception in the international arena, we are in a dire need of projecting the softer or affirmative aspects of our nation. Blacklisted and stigmatized with the term "terrorism", Pakistan needs to pacify this impression across the globe, which is marring the development of the country in numerous ways. Although the western media has definitely given hype to certain issues pertaining to our nation, yet Pakistanis themselves have not stayed behind in proving them true.
In the present scenario, it is no less than a challenge to win the consent of various countries to gather at a place where their life is at stake. Even the locals cannot guess when and where a bomb blast would take place, how can these foreigners to put their trust in us? But let us consider some of the possibilities as how to hold and organize events that would propel people from various parts of the world to congregate.
A drastic reengineering of power structure is needed immediately. Almost all state institutions are now intricately linked to the trajectory of terrorist and political violence in Pakistan. The misuse of these institutions is to be avoided. Abusing and disempowering state institutions by the government further distort country's image which is to be avoided.
Like the practice of numerous countries, Pakistan can organize sports events, inviting participants from across the globe. A fine example is the twenty-twenty cricket series played in India recently. This event had been organized by Indian Cricket League and won tremendous response from cricket teams all around the world. Players and audience from every nook and corner of the world gathered there and cheered their favorite stars. Pakistan can also work on the similar lines and launch many such sports events including hockey, cricket and squash tournaments. The objective of these will definitely be to bring the world's attention to the constructive aspects of our country. Such platforms also aid to improve the economic and business prospects for a state. Huge audiences from across the globe get to see the socio-economic conditions and thus come up with new business plans and ideas resulting in joint ventures with the local firms.
Although holding and organizing events to gather the international world in Pakistan in the present scenario looks like an impressive idea and it is needed on urgent basis as well, this is no less than climbing a mountain. However, there are people who have done so and so can we. What is required is a strategic approach, clear objects and a profound plan of action. The security of the invitees, the reaction of the local bodies and public are factors which must be kept in consideration before initiating such endeavors.
A crucial aspect of public diplomacy is to initiate a public debate on making militant jihad irrelevant and anachronistic, not just in Pakistan, but also in the world of Islam.
With the country having 160 million hard-working people -- out of which 100 million are below 25 years of age -- its geo-strategic location at the crossroads of various important regions, huge economic and investment potential and low cost of doing business, we should try to create Pakistan as a brand in the world. We need to brand Pakistan as a place where business will flourish.
For business leaders, a liberalized economy, clear rules of governance, an environment where corruption is unable to flourish and a deregulated business environment are some of the areas of prime importance to attracting new business, growing the economy and improving Pakistan's brand.