By Zubeida Mustafa
President Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues in the government are perpetually worried about Pakistan’s image. They want to project a “soft image” of the country (including that of themselves) and are unhappy that the foreign media is lashing out at Pakistan and harping on all its negative qualities to give the country a bad name.
The president says that many of the social evils that have made life so brutal in the country exist in other societies too. But Pakistan is singled out as though it were the only place where horrendous crimes, such as rape, are committed.
One sympathizes with the president for the bad publicity Pakistan traditionally gets. But the problem is that he will have to work hard to really understand what projecting a soft image entails. You cannot show a country as something which it is not. After all, you cannot manufacture plus points which do not exist at all. Neither can you gloss over all its minus points. That would be downright deceit and everyone would see through it.
Hence the image game involves striking a delicate balance. It calls for a strategy emphasizing all the positive aspects of Pakistan and its people and playing down the weaknesses the country suffers from. This does not mean that we have to deny all that is wrong in our society. No don’t try to sweep the muck under the carpet and pretend all is fine. An explanation of why the problems still exist and an assurance that we are making an effort to set things right would carry more conviction.
Thus image building is a continuous process. A perpetual quest for the beautiful aspects of our life and culture will produce results. They need to be highlighted again and again so that a soft image emerges. If the country has ramshackle government schools and hospitals that teach nothing and provide no health care, and there are high brow private schools and elitist hospitals that charge a fortune to teach something and treat the patients, there are also institutions which don’t charge anything and yet teach a lot and cure patients with state of the art technology for free.
If the latter are highlighted, the image that will emerge will be of a caring society. More importantly, the key role played in this process is that of the people who represent Pakistan outside the country. They don’t necessarily have to be the diplomats, though that is basically their job for which they are posted in foreign capitals. Others are also the projectors of the country’s image. They may be the cricket team, a squash champion, an activist attending a conference abroad or may be just an ordinary Pakistani tourist –– haven’t you always been asked when abroad, “Where do you come from?”
It is not just the beautiful tourist spots and the heartwarming cultural activities that give Pakistan its image. It is the friendly and hospitable people who give the country a soft image. A foreigner who has never been here and has not formed any impressions about the country will obviously remember his first experience at the diplomatic mission where he goes to get a visa. It is essentially a window to Pakistan.
Unfortunately, not everyone has something good to say in this regard. Take the case of a woman born of Pakistani parents in what was then West Pakistan. She is now married to a Bangladeshi and has the nationality of that country. She has been visiting her family in Karachi at least twice a year. But our mission in Dhaka even refused to entertain her visa application when she went there last.
Similarly, a media team in the UK who wanted to produce a film giving a positive image of Pakistan did not get its visa in time to come and do its work per schedule.
And then the president of the country goes to the US and gives an interview to an American newspaper in which he says things about women that are really unwarranted. There is a furore. And the country’s image is defiled. The president loses his cool when questioned at a meeting in New York. He denies what the newspaper had printed, and thus complicates matters. Now the newspaper retaliates and calls him a “liar” editorially. Two simple words, that work like magic, would have undone the damage to the image of Pakistan. “I’m sorry,” is all that was needed to set things right.