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Pakistan Day in Dhaka


By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, March 25, 2014


On March 23 in Dhaka, I woke up to a copy of the Daily Star. What greeted me inside, as I flipped the paper, was the Pakistan Day supplement with a bland full page adorned with portraits of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, President Mamnoon Hussain and premier Nawaz Sharif, accompanied by their lofty pontificating messages on the ideals of Pakistan and how they would like to see Pakistan.

This decades-old, self-flattering format of a Pakistan Day supplement brazenly betrayed the extreme poverty of vision within our bureaucracy and a totally absent understanding of modern-day marketing techniques and communication strategies. This medieval full-page advertisement also reflected the official ignorance of the need for a credible and attractive governmental narrative — at least for foreign readers.

One can only sympathise with those who put together the supplement — wasting hundreds of millions on similar editions in various capitals. With apologies to many brilliant officers in the ministries of foreign affairs and information, one is pained to say that most of them seem totally oblivious to what Pakistan needs at the moment.

Instead of putting up iconic figures with cross-border repute and trans-national appeal likeShahid Afridi (who has galvanised the Bengali youth like nobody else and enjoys a roaring image in the context of ongoing Twenty20 competition) or illustrations of Pakistan’s legal luminaries, of the vibrant electronic media, a recap of the budding fashion industry in Karachi and Lahore or Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, or something on how Pakistan has created space for women at the national and provincial levels, we have images of our unpopular current leaders. Even a box item on Hum TV and the “Humsafar” soap, which excited many in India and Bangladesh, would have done. Or the image of Shere Bengal Fazle Haq or Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy could also have served as a bridging factor. Communication means marketing something that has relevance to the local context, something to which the locals can relate. But in our case, this element is missing. It may have been okay to reproduce Jinnah’s ideals for Pakistan, but what glorious services have the Mamnoon or the Sharifs rendered which foreign readers could relish?

This side of the Pakistani narrative, i.e., the ruling elite adorning the front and back pages of newspapers at the cost of precious public money, or addressing their own people via state and private TV, saying things and making claims that would not be remotely close to their actual deeds, is just disappointing.

Why couldn’t our bureaucrats flag the recently adopted National Internal Security Policy (NISP), which, despite its flaws, still makes many Pakistanis proud that the country has, at least for the first time after a decade of violence, a framework to fight terrorism.

For years, Pakistan got a lot of flak from the national and foreign media for not having a strategy and that is why the NISP must be touted as a big step forward.

Here in Dhaka — the capital of a country often swept by natural calamities and political turmoil — the first counter-terror strategy was presented last year. Here, the minister of finance is vowing to take the country’s exports to $75 billion in five years. In Islamabad, it appears, confusion surrounds, stymied by opportunism, lack of vision and ignorance of the imperatives of credible and long-lasting communication and development strategies. Why does one feel disgusted about the Pakistan Day supplements abroad? Simply because people abroad wonder whether Pakistan is consciously undertaking steps to fight terrorism and counter radicalisation?

At a consultation with Bangladeshi friends, participants wondered whether indiscriminate rule of law is being turned into a priority area of intervention. Bangladeshi officials from the foreign and home ministries made impressive presentations on their counter-terror and counter-radicalisation initiatives, most of which revolved around strict and indiscriminate enforcement of law.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk