Perceptions play an important role in the lives of individuals and similarly that of nations. We are treated based on perceptions built around us as individuals, society, or nation. However, it is important to understand that perceptions are not always and never entirely based on realities.
While realities often serve as input to build perceptions, but realities change with time but the speed with which the perceptions change is not the same as do the realities in an ever-evolving world. Realities and Perceptions are therefore intertwined in a cyclical process where they end up feeding each other and often exacerbate the issue.
Pakistan is constantly embattled with the challenge of misperceptions due to which it has been painted as a rogue, tribal and regressive state by its adversaries.
Western news agencies, media, their movies and dramas have historically projected eastern societies in general and Pakistan in particular as a regressive and tribal state. These flawed narratives stem from various factors that have contributed to the development of such perceptions.
Pakistan has always been a supporter of peace and cooperation among the nations of the world. The main driver of its foreign policy has always been the preservation of its own national interest while maintaining cooperation and friendly ties with all the other countries of the world. Moreover, Pakistan has always endeavored to play a positive role in resolving the conflicts between different countries, time and again.
Pakistan has always spoken loud and clearly against the use of military force and aggression for the resolution of any conflict, anywhere in the world, always advocating a political solution while safeguarding fundamental human rights. Despite all this, Pakistan has been accused of promoting violence and extremism in addition to its portrayal as an uncivilized and radicalized nation.
Pakistan cannot absolve itself from blame by absolute outrage at the West. On the contrary, Pakistan has failed to identify and remediate its own vulnerabilities and also fallen short to grasp opportunities that can alter realities and change perceptions for the better.
Accepting our shortcomings and weaknesses is important because we cannot simply turn a blind eye to our own follies by putting the entire responsibility on the external agents.
Some of the major contributing factors are mentioned below.
1. Poor Governance & Dependency Syndrome Due to Financial Aid
Successive Pakistani governments have failed to govern Pakistan efficiently and their political expediency has much often exacerbated the governance challenges and turned those governance challenges into national security issues.
Once the myriad of governance challenges are left unaddressed for a long period of time, they essentially get translated into the national security issues and increase the risk profile of the state where all issues are then seen primarily from the security lens.
The failure to address governance challenges also means that the state becomes feeble, unable to independently finance its affairs and uplift its masses and resultantly looks for financial aid from internal and external lenders to run its operations.
This has progressively caused a dependency syndrome in successive governments where they have focused their energies on getting financially bailed out rather than increasing the overall productivity and wealth of the state to become self-reliant and independent.
These continuous cries for help have created dark perceptions about the ability of the Pakistan state to function as a progressive, stable, responsible and independent state.
Poor Governance gives rise to political unrest and instability which is conducive to the propagation of extremism and radicalism. This enables the western media and the international community to project Pakistan in a negative light. This instability helps to promote and strengthen the negative perception of the country on the global front. Unless we remediate this particular problem, any efforts toward the improvement of our country’s image and perception cannot be fruitful. Pakistan will continue to be looked upon as a politically unstable country where the writ of the state is frequently challenged by various internal and external actors.
2. Colonial Hangover of Pakistan’s Elder Generation.
The Indian Sub-continent remained under British colonial rule for several years and therefore it perpetuated thinking within the enslaved masses of the Indian sub-continent that the Western world was superior to them and so were their ideologies and their value system. It successively instilled a mindset in the people of the Indian sub-continent that in order for them to become powerful, successful and modern; they will have to adopt the Western form of life, their ideologies and their value system.
Even after attaining independence from British colonial rule, their legacy remained active in the mindset of Pakistan’s intelligentsia. A significant majority of Pakistan’s intelligentsia cultivated a self-deprecating view about its own cultural norms and essentially became the local ambassadors of the Western ideologies within Pakistan.
This section of Pakistan’s elite worked with their international collaborators to continually project Pakistan as rogue, irresponsible and backward nation.
3. No Focus on Art, Culture, Movies, Drama and Music
Despite having a rich culture, talent in drama and music, these areas have remained on the back burner of various Pakistani governments. The efforts to develop and project Pakistan’s art, culture, movies, drama and music are minuscule when compared to other regional competitors.
It needs to be understood that Arts, Movies, Drama and Music help nations cultivate a soft power and are equally important levers to project one’s own narrative, fixing false perceptions and highlighting true realities.
By failing to capture the opportunities provided through a projection of Pakistani art, movies, drama and music at international fronts, Pakistan has left the space open and uncontested to its adversaries.
This slumber and ignorance has costed Pakistan immensely where Pakistan has become an easy punching bag by virtue of the movies and drama being developed by its adversaries project Pakistan as a spoiler for peace within the region.
4. Lack of International Level English News Channel
Pakistan has a huge diaspora that can communicate in English; an international language that is widely spoken and understood across the globe.
Yet, Pakistan still does not have an English News Channel of International stature that can serve to project Pakistan’s narrative, counter false perceptions and illuminate realities.
When compared to other nations like Qatar, Turkey and China, etc., the adoption of the English language in their society is far less than in Pakistan. However, they all own an English news channel through which they can project their narratives and contest the false narrative built against their country.
Pakistan’s inability to develop such a valuable resource has once again given a huge advantage to its adversaries to project Pakistan in whatever manner they can.
5. Fake News Campaigns.
Fake news is a serious challenge that not only Pakistan but all nations have faced or will face in the modern world. The purpose of running fake news campaigns is to divert or twist narratives to one’s own advantage at the cost of your adversary’s repute.
In 2020, the revelation about the fake news campaigns carried out by India over Pakistan were unearthed by UK Disinfo Lab. For a long 15 year period, the Indian power oligarchy ran malicious campaigns to present Pakistan as a rogue state in the eyes of European nations.
We need to understand and realize the importance of data and narratives built around it. Our adversaries have historically used their resources to malign Pakistan and project their false narratives to seek advantage for their own political constituencies.
Pakistan needs to keep highlighting these malicious campaigns and also raise awareness about them at the international forums to discredit the players that have been at the back of such campaigns.
Despite the myriad of challenges faced by Pakistan and the significant distance to be covered in terms of fixing perceptions and realities. Pakistan can still take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. Some of the key opportunities are mentioned below that should be leveraged for its advantage.
1. Politically Aware Youth – Pakistan is amongst the few countries in the Muslim World which have a huge Youth bulge with high political awareness. The political awareness within current Pakistan youth is un-parallel when compared to the generation of 1960s and 1970s.
It is imperative for Pakistan to further educate these youth and help them learn to differentiate between noise and substance. This will empower Pakistan to tackle false propaganda and also enable the youth to ask the right questions from its political leaders. With an empowered and educated youth that is likely to be in the power corridors in future years; there is every likelihood that they will be able to address the governance issues which have turned into national security issues.
2. Significant Diaspora with an ability to Speak & Communicate in an International Language and Counter False Propaganda.
Pakistan is one of the few Muslim countries with a politically aware youth and its ability to communicate and contest ideas in the English language. This provides us with an opportunity to easily interact with International experts, opinion-makers, writers and thinkers without the need for having interlocutors.
Unlike many other Muslim countries that largely rely on their national language to communicate over social media, Pakistan’s young intelligentsia relies on English to express themselves and therefore they are less likely to remain in their bubbles created due to the language barrier. This provides us an opportunity to reach out to the international community and share our part of the story to dislodge some of the major misperceptions about Pakistan.
Pakistan is truly at the crossroads of history where current times can be considered as the worst of times but at the same time can be considered as the best of times because of the opportunities that exist in our hands. Pakistan needs to structure itself in terms of better governance and work towards a vision and mission of its founding fathers to be among the committee of respectable nations.
By: Muneeb Imran & Maria Ismail
Muneeb Imran is Strategy & Governance consultant in Cybersecurity & Privacy areas and has a keen interest in International relations, History and Foreign affairs.
Maria Ismail is a Physiotherapist by profession, interested in policymaking, politics, current and foreign affairs as well as geopolitics; aiming to pursue a Masters’s degree in International Relations.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.