Pakistan has a global image problem and this has to be accepted by the government as well as the citizens. Official spin doctors do attempt to craft statements decrying the barrage of anti-Pakistan statements and actions but are in real terms unable to counter these in an effective and believable manner. At times, even the domestic media is not able to digest the arguments of official media and perfunctorily highlight these statements without espousing their own opinions and views. Ergo, the endeavors misfire and the negative image, instead of being seriously tackled, goes from the frying pan into the fire.
Naturally, it is the primary responsibility of the Information Ministry to clean up the global negativity and also it is imperative that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through traditional diplomacy, counters such negative balderdash. While maintaining these responsibilities, it is essential that the government must understand and accept the fact that traditional diplomacy cannot quickly influence entrenched, fake, and, at times, vicious anti-Pakistan public opinion. There is a perception problem also.
Despite genuineness of government's policy and actions, these often inspire suspicion and resentment and leads to a barrage of negative outbursts in foreign media as well as in social media.
In the past, whenever and wherever there were terrorist attacks, the foreign media either instantly blamed these on Pakistan or tried to find a Pakistani hand behind these. Although in the final review, Pakistan would receive exoneration, the basic fact was that the damage was already done. In recent times, impartial and unbiased foreign think tanks and research enterprises did extensive exploring and investigating and came up with the honest to goodness truth that most of the anti-Pakistan propaganda campaigns were a sack full of lies, distortions, insinuations and were heavily promoted and financed by inimical forces.
Check out the Afghanistan situation. After two decades of intensive struggle, the Taliban walked into Kabul as conquerors and have begun to establish their hold over the country devastated by a war that should not have happened.
Although the jury is still out whether the new government would be Taliban 2.0 or whether the leaders would return to a position when they were considered as pariah by the global community, the Taliban spokespersons are making the rounds of print and electronic media worldwide to assure that the new government is an enlightened one and more than willing to be in the comity of nations. So where did Pakistan fit into the new equation?
For starters, the anti-Taliban opinions were tagged to the anti-Pakistan brouhaha and vice versa.Notwithstanding this, the fact is that if Pakistan was the architect of the strategy to provide the impetus for the exodus of troops from a whole lot of foreign armies, then the world must accept that when no one can do it, Pakistan can.
Pakistan has suffered many negative campaigns and this situation will neither fade away nor can be controlled. The accusations have been galore and in the process damaging for the 225 million denizens. Money laundering, nuclear proliferation, human smuggling, source of illicit drugs, environmental degradation, extremism, terrorism, and what not. Nary has a day gone by without someone painting Pakistan in dark colors.
The Damocles Sword on Pakistan hangs by a thin thread due to decisions made in the corridors of FATF, due to revisiting GSP Plus status in the hallowed halls of European Union in Brussels, due to conjuring up harsh conditionalities by multilateral development financing institutions, and due to nonchalant attitude of most of the Muslim countries towards Pakistan's committed stand on contentious issues with the eastern neighbor.
Now is the time to enhance reliance on public diplomacy. It must be categorically understood that public diplomacy is much too crucial to leave it to career diplomats.
To be effective, public diplomacy must be a function of the people, not the government. Now is the time for citizens, especially private sector, sports personalities, and film/TV artistes, to take on the onus of globally projecting a positive Pakistan. The creation of goodwill cannot and should not be left to government spin doctors or diplomats because they are not in a position to seriously fathom the values of people in other countries.
A business person is better placed to interact with a foreign counterpart, a cricket player can comfortably communicate with a member of the opposite team, and singers, dancers and actors can easily identify with the entertainment community in many nations.
The messages, expressions and emotions that they would proffer would be generally real and not abstract. These positions would not be camouflaged in diplomatic jargon and would be untainted instead of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo or political point scoring.
There are ways and means to structure the narrative when promoting the positive image of the nation. Since there are no laid down procedures, and since individuals have their own style and manner of articulating their point of view, and since emotions or histrionics may counter impact the essence of the narrative, it is imperative that each segment of society inculcates certain guidelines that would, to a large extent, ensure the correct presentation of the national narrative. As an example, it is obvious that if a business person is interacting with a foreign counterpart, the central theme of their conversation would of course be trade and industry matters.
Usually, the conversation drifts into other subjects, especially happenings in Pakistan and the role of Pakistan regarding global issues.
It goes without saying that in modern times, the access to internet, social media and television has provided enough information for the foreign citizen to have considered personal opinions. Hence, it is incumbent upon those Pakistanis, who get opportunities to meet their foreign counterparts, to develop the critical mass of forming and presenting valid opinions and information. It is but natural that people are plural and have different thoughts and ideas but the advantage of each sector communicating with counterparts is that there is an element of sameness and an informal bond that eventually enables conveying the message in a favorable environment. Therefore, multi-dimensional knowledge through proper homework, controlled articulation, and calculated communication would not only win friends but more significantly transform the conventional thinking of those whose outlook needs to be changed.
The real meaning of public diplomacy is direct conversation, dialogue or maybe an interview or speech at an event. These have more impact than advertisements, photographs, webcasts, or video clips.
But even these tools are essential when formulating opinions and views, it is important to distinguish between reality and propaganda. James Snyder, who worked in NATO, very eloquently advised, "you are a counterinsurgent fighting for the ideas, passion and reason of those people who may, in many cases, have no other cause to believe in. If you give them one, if you set a mind free on a chart now marked with new and startling waypoints, you could change forever one person’s destiny and then one nation’s. Learn the terrain, learn the way, then go and fight".
The writer is the former president of the Employers Federation of Pakistan