Pakistan must re-brand itself in the world
In the age of information, it is a tough sell to stand apart from the crowd unless a country has something useful that others may want or hope to be associated with. And even then, it may not be enough if the value isn’t ‘packaged’ the right way, even if a country figures out its value proposition. On these counts, Pakistan falls short.
Let’s face it – Pakistan is not exactly a popular kid on the global block. The problem is not just the way it brands itself, but also the value (or lack of it) that it offers.
A recent illustration of precisely why Pakistan faces a difficult time convincing the world of its good intentions about being a friendly, reliable member of the international community, was on display last month at the United Nations. Prime Minister Imran Khan missed a great opportunity to re-define Pakistan’s case and image to the world and instead chose to focus largely on India and on Islamophobia.
While his speech was a great hit with his fans back home – the world has already moved on. To everyone else, he was just another leader railing against international slights, with a bruised national pride and a humanitarian crisis, one that admittedly needs the world’s empathy. But in a world full of problems, who wants more problems?
Pakistan may be wanting a good reputation, but it was not always this way. In the pre-Cold War era, the country was a beacon of progress and development and served as an inspiration – as well as varying degrees of policy assistance – to nations now known as the Asian Tigers. It was known for its tourism, pluralism and even diplomacy – it was an outgoing nation with a future rather than the sulky introvert it has now morphed into.
In a hyper-connected world, Pakistan needs to remain in tune with the times, and offer better value in its policies, engagement, and connectivity.
So, what brought about the crumbling of the promise of Pakistan? What unraveled its potential of becoming the economic powerhouse it was destined to be, at least until the early 1970’s? It was a combination of policy blunders and poor political choices that shattered that once glistening, attainable dream and laid ruin to many opportunities for a sustainable comeback.
It started with prolonged military rule ending with the break-up of the country in 1971 and the emergence of independent Bangladesh, which now beats Pakistan hands down in the South Asian social development and economic growth context. Then, Pakistan packed up the democracy experiment by hanging its first elected Prime Minister, and its immediate reversion to military rule — this time a brutal one.
Then, there was the forced Islamization of a secular polity, jumping into the bloody Afghan war against the Soviet Union in service of American Cold War goals that gave Pakistan religious radicalism, sectarianism, terrorism and the drug trade. A short re-experimentation with democracy in the 1990s gave way to more military rule that made a mockery of democracy, hounded representative political forces and renewed the militarization of the polity, all amid entrenched religious nationalism premised on the hatred of Indians.
Tough to brand all this into something shiny, right? But while the big picture rightly portends a dim view of Pakistan’s long-standing reactionary foreign policies, mainly driven by security considerations that have outlived their Cold War and post-9/11 compulsions, in the interim, Pakistan has miraculously managed to improve its literacy rate and global connectivity. Its political forces have reformed the Constitution and de-centralized power and resources and multi-party democracy doggedly refuse to surrender to a still-glowering security establishment.
Pakistan can still salvage the democratic pluralisms that are at the center of its beating heart. If Malaysia and Indonesia can re-brand themselves from crowded, directionless authoritarian pasts into thriving representative and pluralist democracies with strong economic foundations despite their overarching religious identities, so can Pakistan.
What Pakistan fights is not its past but its future. It needs to stop defining itself constantly in opposition to India. With both countries having gone nuclear, there is no need to be militaristic anymore. Instead, Pakistan needs to re-define itself as an ethnically, linguistically and politically diverse country that revels in its pluralisms and embraces the world. And one that pursues a critical mass of policy focus away from a security state to an economic power focused on development.
In a hyper-connected world, Pakistan needs to remain in tune with the times, and offer better value in its policies, engagement, and connectivity. It needs to let go of hard, edgy identity politics and become a softer power. It needs to stop being so angry all the time, revisit its mission statement, improve it's brand and better articulate its value proposition.
– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science.