Building Pakistan’s Brand Power

Former Information Minister shares his ideas on how Pakistan needs to brand itself. This is an essential but oft underrated issue that has been brushed aside by policymakers or even worse has been tackled by dry bureaucrats, who do not understand the import of branding Pakistan.


Consideration of Pakistan as a brand opens up myriad avenues for reflection and options for action. To begin with, Pakistan is a remarkable country with the most unique origins among all nation-states; this fact alone deserves far more attention and empathy than it receives.

Seventy-two years after its creation, the country suffers from an extremely negative global image. Blemishes in society and flaws of the State disproportionately shape this unfavorable image. Several splendid strengths receive only fleeting attention or no mention whatsoever.

Our flaws, foibles

A core reason for the unattractive image is the range of harsh truths and realities that exist in Pakistan of 2019. A low-level of human resource development with millions of women deprived of social and human rights, and millions of children, especially girls, without access to primary education and healthcare.

Obstructive rather than facilitative governance, compounded by bribery, red-tape, and incompetence that add misery to citizens’ lives. Segments of society that are permitted to use religion to operate thousands of madrassas where brain-washing and indoctrination foster rote-learning, and a showy religiosity, unwilling to face the implications of disruptive new knowledge and information.

For overseas visitors, a physical infrastructure that remains functional yet does not offer the freedoms of choice and leisure conventionally associated with relaxed, enjoyable tourism. A persona broadly but strongly made synonymous with hate, extremism, and violence. So closely are these last three attributes associated with the country’s name that its green cover passports instantly initiate special attention by immigration and customs in most overseas countries.

Read more: “Salam” celebrates a glorious journey of Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam

Our finer features

In stark contrast to this predominantly negative brand image, there is the virtually unanimous view expressed by overseas visitors coming to Pakistan for the first time. Within hours and a few days, the exclamation is: “How different is Pakistan from the way one thought about it before coming here!” among the first facets of the Pakistani people that make a substantial impact on foreign visitors are the friendliness, spontaneous warmth and ready hospitality of people, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, familiar, or stranger.

Extraordinary compassion for those in distress or in need, and generosity in both spirit and hard cash, even among those with low levels of income, becomes rapidly apparent. Also, frequently visible are characteristics like being a people who have no fear – often in a fool-hardy kind of way! Whether by darting dangerously in-and-out of traffic, climbing to the roofs of jam-packed buses and trains, rushing to the scene of a mishap or a disaster to give help and succor.

Perhaps the finishing touch comes with the fact that for a country that is absurdly placed among the lowest in the Global Gender Index, Pakistan has produced; a girl who became the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner, the first woman to head a UN agency, as well as the world’s first Muslim woman Prime Minister.

It also relates to high levels of internal mobility, illustrating a melting pot of broad diversity in races, languages, cultures, cuisines, and traits. All these, and many more encased in the geography of spectacular beauty, from coastal beaches to snow-topped mountains, from fruit-filled orchards to lush green farms.

Despite the abysmal, and perhaps misleading ranking in the Human Development Index, the capacity to produce an array of skills: from illiterate mechanics who can repair complex car systems to sophisticated specialists in finance, banking, science and technology along with several painters, artists, musicians and writers of great caliber under-rated in global terms.

Perhaps the finishing touch comes with the fact that for a country that is absurdly placed among the lowest in the Global Gender Index, Pakistan has produced; a girl who became the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner, the first woman to head a UN agency, as well as the world’s first Muslim woman Prime Minister.

Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of Muslim World.
Affordable dualities

The attempt in the preceding two paragraphs to note some of the major weaknesses and strengths of Pakistan lead to the reality of what this writer terms “affordable duality.” The straightforward definition of this term is the coexistence within a single country-brand of virtually diametrically opposite elements, the not-so-good and the good, the outrightly terrible, and the undeniably real. Five examples can be cited.

The USA: domineering, militaristic, interventionist. Democratic. Robust freedoms of expression and worship. Economic opportunities that attract large-scale immigration. India: predatory, expansionist, hegemonistic, now hostile to its own Muslim citizens. World’s largest democracy, a rich cultural legacy.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Crass but popular Bollywood entertainment. Israel: brutally repressive of Palestinians, expansionist. Democratic, technologically advanced. Saudi Arabia: non-democratic, suppressive monarchy. Beheadings. Medieval practices. One of the world’s largest sources of oil. Pivotal to the global economy and regional stability. China: Authoritarian, single-party Communist rule. Limited freedoms. Dynamic growth.

An unprecedented shift of hundreds of millions from poverty to middle-income levels. A hyper-work-ethic that works wonders. Despite the apparent contrasts and contradictions between disparate elements, these five countries benefit from a generally positive perception in which their respective excesses – such as India’s oppression of Kashmir and Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians – the world at large looks away from cold truths, because the beholders have vested interests to do so.

Read more: A Memory of Greatness: Benazir Bhutto’s at UNGA Addressing Kashmir Issue

Only one special factor?

While Pakistan also has sharply contrasting qualities as evident in the listing of some weaknesses and strengths, our country is not perceived as possessing a stark, singular quality that offsets the negatives. With the exception of Pakistan being only one of nine nuclear weapon powers among as many as 193 Member States of the United Nations.

But for the most part, this feature is viewed with far more apprehension than respect, because possession of nuclear weapons is made synonymous with the possibility of their irresponsible use or, even absurdly, of these weapons falling into the hands of religious fanatics.

Whereas, in actuality, the standards of internal security controls, checks, and balances on the use of our nuclear capability are among the best of the nine nuclear weapon powers. In essence: Pakistan is not an affordably dualistic brand!

Building Pakistan’s Brand Power
Joor Jehan, Malala Yousafzai
First, the facts

An indispensable first step toward the goal of changing for the better global perceptions about Pakistan is to conduct a confidential opinion survey through an overseas, independent, reputed research entity. Though the results may only confirm our worst fears, searching for facts should be conducted — if only for the reason that such a major survey has never been undertaken.

Covering about 12 major countries in the West and in other parts of the world, such a study should elicit views held by individuals in a range of groups. These should include mainstream media, academia, legislatures, business, civil society forums, and average citizens.

Data obtained from a scientifically-structured and accurately-conducted survey will alone provide the factual basis through which precisely formulated responses, strategies, themes, and multiple messages can be shaped and projected. A simultaneous review is also needed for social media to determine the composition, weight, frequency, and other aspects of the information and opinions that daily flood through this category of media.

Read more: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Pakistan’s esteemed Singing Buddha

A five-year plan

Based on an analysis of the findings of these two surveys will enable deliberations on a plan whose timespan should be over five years. An essential feature of this plan should be that it is multi-dimensional, using a range of non-media modes as well as mainstream media and social media.

Non-media modes need to comprise: a continuous, almost never-ending series of visits to major overseas countries by one or multi-member small teams of articulate, knowledgeable individuals able to speak and converse in modulated tones and terms with discerning overseas individuals and groups to project the substance as well as the nuances of Pakistan’s approach to domestic and foreign policies.

The extraordinary impact of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech at the UN on 27 September 2019 needs to be reinforced, sustained and expanded to ensure that this dramatic and long-overdue achievement does not become a one-off landmark. Visits to overseas countries should target those same groups covered by the opinion surveys recommended earlier — regular visits to Pakistan by overseas writers, journalists, opinion-makers.

Fawad Khan, Abida Parveen, Mahira Khan

Space and time need to be purchased in leading global media to enable Pakistan’s own under-reported, little-known realities reaching the minds of those many who have pre-set opinions based on lack of information and awareness.

Though, some exceptional artists and painters of Pakistan have received praise and attention in major overseas countries; our splendid treasury of artistic history, our enormous talent in music, painting, fashion design, literature (including English!), innovation in diverse fields and our energetic creativity requires far greater and regular projection across the world and particularly in a dozen or more countries that matter most to Pakistan’s interests.

Using other sectors such as sports, trade, tourism, and opportunities afforded by multilateral events held outside Pakistan, a comprehensive variety of initiatives and activities can be undertaken tailored to reach identified groups and segments effectively. One permanent addition must be the establishment of new Pakistan Centers at prime locations in important cities — to offer walk-in encounters with examples of our vibrant arts and cultures.

Dr. Abdus Salam, Asma Jahangir

Commencing with English but at the earliest possible expanding to include Spanish, French, and other major languages, the drive to build a new brand for Pakistan has to be multi-lingual. To the extent that it should also include the languages of friendly countries such as China and fellow Muslim Arab and non-Arab states as the languages of those countries that are currently hostile to Pakistan, eg. Hindi for India, and Bangla for Bangladesh.

Wherever possible, to a large extent, such as in the Middle-east, UK, and North America, the plan should engage and mobilize the large diaspora of overseas Pakistanis as also the smaller numbers in the diaspora in East Asia, Europe, and other regions.

Read more: Malala Yousafzai feels for Kashmiris, calls for peaceful resolution

A public-private partnership

The brand plan should be a public-private partnership, in the best possible ways; this enables it to benefit from the exclusive advantages that come with official state endorsement, while at the same time to gain from the sense of enterprise and efficiency of the private sector.

Perhaps an entirely new organizational entity needs to be created to make such an ideal fusion possible – one that avoids the red tape of bureaucracy while also ensuring that private participation remains subject to transparency and accountability.

Pakistani born astrophysicist Dr Nergis Mavalvala
Money matters

The sheer scale of the task indicates a financial investment that can range anywhere upwards of about $100 million over five years. This is likely to be an under-estimation. To date, Pakistan has not invested even a fraction of either the above two amounts – just as, simultaneously, the problem of being seen in almost wholly negative terms has grown exponentially.

For a government hard-pressed to meet its non-development expenditure, leave alone its development expenditure, even 10 percent of the two amounts named herein are formidably elusive. Yet, there is enough ingenuity in our private and public financial sectors to find ways to mobilize the sums required. Overseas Pakistanis who have notably succeeded are potential contributors.

As are several well-endowed resident Pakistanis. Money invested in this mission is like planting seeds in the soil. This is a capital investment by which, for every dollar invested, the return is likely to be five-fold. And one that will ultimately benefit all Pakistanis, at home and overseas. Plans to create a new TV channel by Pakistan, Turkey, and Malaysia to rebut Islamophobia are laudable, but only partially relevant to the subject of this brief reflection. That concept requires separate analysis.

Read more: Edhi: An unforgettable legacy

72 years, and waiting

To conclude: the content and tone of the proposed five-year plan for a re-branding of Pakistan should be informative and candid, not propagandistic, and prettifying. Our message to the world should present hard facts, and occasionally also present harsh truths that will only strengthen the credibility of the message.

Wherever possible, appropriate use of humor will help make the message through media and non-media modes the more persuasive and unforgettable. For work that is overdue for the past 72 years, there is not a day to be lost.

Javed Jabbar is a former Senator and Information Minister of Pakistan. He is an author and has written a number of books on Pakistan. He has worked on a number of films and wrote and produced the award-winning Ramchand Pakistani in 2008. He has been part of the advertising and communications sector for many years.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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