Pakistan’s Image Problem

An important article in Dawn has been, unfortunately, overshadowed by the Raymond Davis drama of the last two days. Perhaps the article was only slightly premature in that regard. Actually, now should be the perfect time to examine closely the author’s observations about Pakistan’s image problem.

The predictable establishment reaction to these results might be a defensive one — questioning the validity of the methodology and results and the diversity of the countries selected to be surveyed, pointing to the rising tide of Islamophobia in the West and the ‘bias’ of the western media which shapes it. Or it may be a foolishly patriotic one by claiming we don’t care what the world thinks of us and simply ignoring the results as irrelevant.

Both of these reactions would be self-defeating, because obviously it does matter to a country living on international handouts (or any country tied into a global economic system) what the world thinks of it. And let’s not forget that Pakistan has pretences of being a leading geo-strategic player.

But there is another response to these dismaying results that may be as problematic and which one fears will be promoted by those out to make a quick buck and those with little vision or imagination. And that is the PR blitz. You can almost sense that public relations agencies will be licking their chops at potential contracts and whispering into the ears of bureaucrats and politicians that the way out of this perceptual negativity is to counter it with positive images of the country.

This is the marketing mindset that believes that what is wrong with Pakistan is basically bad press and the corrective to it is promoting the ‘soft image’ of the country, the sufic roots of our heritage, the brilliant natural beauty or what have you.

Here’s a reality check for our potential spin doctors: marketing is an adjunct to a product, not the other way round. And the product we have on our hands currently is this: a lack of bearings, a fondness for rhetoric over logical analysis, cultural paranoia, an absence of a coherent vision for the future, a prioritisation of elite interests over what is better for the country as a whole, crumbling state institutions, bureaucratic inertia, a stunning lack of capacity to implement any plans that are actually made, a violent assault on the state that daily demoralises its citizens, an economy in hock and a stubborn unwillingness to reverse failing courses of action such as a jihadist foreign policy.

Adeel said on Wednesday that the Raymond Davis case is closed, it is time to focus our attention on the tasks at hand: Addressing the education crisis, building on the recent economic good news to improve further growth and opportunity, strengthening the democratic process and uniting to secure the country against the menace of militancy.

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