Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pakistan’s image problem

What it will take to be a nation again.
 Pakistan faces a serious image problem. It is not the “Jewish lobby,” the all too familiar whipping boy of our conspiracy theorists, which has tarnished the country’s image to malign Pakistan. What one sees happening around should be enough to disturb any Pakistani. Even the little that appears in the mainstream media is enough to act as an eye-opener.
One source of bad name is the Martial Laws the country has gone through. The military leaders, who ruled directly during half the history of the country and indirectly during the other half, were bound to damage Pakistan’s image in a world which sees democracy as the only civilised system of governance.
Pakistan is viewed as a state which is neither at peace with itself nor with the outside world. It has over the last sixty eight years of its life fought three major wars and several civil wars.
While the country lacks stability it also possesses the fourth largest arsenal of nuclear warheads in the world, arousing fears.
The tax to GDP ratio in Pakistan is the second lowest in the region. The super-rich and powerful don’t pay taxes and deposit their ill-gotten wealth in foreign banks. When Pakistani governments seek aid and loans the tax payers in donors countries grumble, which is natural. Two years back a group of British parliamentarians said British taxpayers should not be paying for health and education in Pakistan, where rich Pakistanis were paying little tax.
While the country lacks stability it also possesses the fourth largest arsenal of nuclear warheads in the world, arousing fears
The unending religious persecution in the country has been widely condemned. The condemnations have however failed to put an end to attacks on Christian localities and Churches and on Hindu temples. Members of the Muslim minority sects have been killed by thousands over these years and there is still no respite to their persecution.
The treatment meted out to women is atrocious. Reports continue to appear in the media month after month about rapes and gang rapes. A media report on Friday underlined the plight of a 23 year school teacher who had to quit her job and stay at home after the entire village found out that she was gang raped by four men who filmed their savage attack. The film has since gone viral on social media. The country’s Islamic Ideology Council insists that the DNA test does not constitute primary evidence in cases of rape and that an accused person cannot be punished unless the raped woman produces four eye witnesses. They are likely to reject the video evidence on the same grounds.
The horrendous acid attacks on women that cause lifelong suffering are also common in the country. Cases have been reported showing that Pakistanis living abroad also commit the heinous crime.
Keeping all this in view it is not unusual that Pakistan should hold the second position at the bottom in the most recent international evaluation of the images of 42 nations. The BBC World Service Country Rating Poll brackets Pakistan and North Korea together as second lowest in international estimation after Iran.
Where does the responsibility for acquiring Pakistan a bad image lie?
The responsibility for this lies on the political choices made by the country’s establishment over the last many decades. These choices were duly supported by the Mullahs and powerful media czars.
In a quest for national identity that was undertaken after the creation of Pakistan, the establishment opted for a course of action that has done immense harm to the people of the country, while it has made Pakistan a butt of jokes in the world.
The first landmark blunder was the adoption of the Objectives Resolution. Instead of going for a secular polity the establishment put the country on a course that was to promote extremist tendencies and finally land the country in a cul-de-sac where we now find ourselves. An “ideology of Pakistan” was invented. Henceforth the history of the country was to begin with the conquest of Sindh by Mohammad bin Qasim. The rich civilisation of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa with contributions made in subsequent centuries by people of various races and religions was rejected out of hand as “Hindu history”, which was obviously a fallacious notion.
The multiplicity of ethnic groups with their own languages, clothes, head gears, cuisines, festivals and dances provided a cultural richness to Pakistan. The presence of a number of religions and sects further added to the variety. This made society look colourful and free. The Indus civilisation had created numerous connectivities in what constituted West Pakistan. The region had over thousands of years developed a pluralistic tradition which expressed itself in the popular and charged poetry composed by the mystic poets of the four provinces.
As time passed cultural diversity was discarded by the promoters of the “ideology of Pakistan” and replaced with uniformity and regimentation While Pakistan came into being as a multi-religious, multi ethnic and multi-linguistic country, Islam was declared the religion of the state. Ignoring the languages that were widely spoken by people for centuries, Urdu was made the sole national language. Negating the presence of nationalities each one with a long history, all were bundled together as a Muslim nation. Raising the issue of provincial autonomy was considered promoting separatism. Strong centre became the ideal of the state.
The responsibility for this lies on the political choices made by the country’s establishment over the last many decades
Autocratic policies were set in motion by leaders like Liaquat Ali Khan. It was maintained that in the presence of the Muslim League which had created Pakistan there was no room for any other political party. Provincial governments were arbitrarily dismissed. Numerous opposition leaders including Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Abdus Samad Khan Achakzai were put behind bars. This led the civil bureaucracy to call the shots. The arbitrary style of governance led to military rule where it reached its culmination.
How can we improve Pakistan’s image?
Marketing techniques under Musharraf failed to do the miracle. As in the case of Lady Macbeth all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten this little hand.
Pakistan has to reverse the course set under Liaquat Ali Khan to be able to bring into play its inherent strengths. These strengths lie in the country’s diversity of cultures, languages, ethnicities, religions and the mystic poets’ teachings of respect for mankind irrespective of differences of colour or creed. .
Pakistan has to practice secularism as the policy of the state. We are fond of euphemisms. We prefer to call bank interest ‘service charges’ and the MFN ‘non-discriminatory market access (NDMA).’ Let us call secularism something else if it is not palatable, If we like we can call it a ‘pluralistic polity’.
There is a need to repeal or amend laws that are used against the minorities and women. There is a need to reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
There is a need to recognise the presence of nationalities, strengthen provincial autonomy and support the development of national languages and cultures. Festivals like Basant have to be revived after an effective ban on the illegal string that has been responsible for casualties. Pakistan has to give priority to improvement of relations with its neighbours.
These are the strengths that if encouraged to flourish should turn over time the various ethnic groups into a voluntary alliance calling itself the Pakistani nation.

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