June, 2018

Arif Nizami – Journalism with Responsibility

By Ikram Sehgal

Even though we knew each other during our school and college days through common acquaintances, I really became friends with Arif Nizami when he visited us during the army operations in Balochistan against Baloch militants in 1973. Commanding a rifle company of 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) tasked for heliborne company operations, I had acquired good knowledge of the Marri-Bugti areas during operations against the Marris. Elements of my company were tasked to accompany the media delegation of which Arif was a member to a number of locations in these areas on helicopters, both as a protective detail and for area/situation familiarization.

Building a Soft Image

Pakistan has an image problem. According to a BBC poll in 2013, Pakistan was the second ‘most unpopular country’ in the world. It only ranked above Iran, which was the most unpopular country then. Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi also has an image problem. This is the world’s 5th largest city and many cities much smaller than Karachi suffer ‘big-city’ problems but Karachi’s problems are unfairly magnified. There is the story of a Pakistani-American based in Seattle who wanted to see his mother living in Karachi. Since she was old and could not take a long flight to the U.S., the son asked her to come over to Islamabad where he could meet her. He did not want to travel to Karachi since he thought things were rather bad there. It of course did not occur to him that his old mother was living in the same troubled city and so were 2.5 million other souls.

Pakistan’s economy has problems and the government that has just left after completing its 5 years, has doubled the country’s debts. There is also a serious current accounts deficit issue and so many other problems. But the good news is that the national GDP is growing at an encouraging pace and there are many international companies that wish to invest in Pakistan. This means that Pakistan needs to be viewed in a much better light than it is at present. With all its problems, the country still offers a relatively secure investment environment, a sizeable middle class and an economy that is nearly $300-billion in size.

The image of Pakistan was greatly tarnished after 9/11 and the country was labelled as a land that produced terrorists. What was ignored was that, unlike any other country on the globe, Pakistan went through a long period of terrorism at the cost of the precious lives of its soldiers and civilians because people from foreign lands used its territory for their nefarious designs. Those with an agenda of regional and global terrorism used it over the past decade and this was further propagated by the surrounding nations as well as the West. Pakistan’s own naiveté must also be blamed for this because its leaders and people, whether in uniform or out of it, placed too much trust in the outsiders whom they dealt with and never made an effort to see the underhand game. The countries that were actually behind the terrorism always got away with a clean image. Pakistani diplomats, the information service and the media believed what they were told by the Indians or the Afghanis and the Pakistani version was always viewed with suspicion.

Despite all this, Pakistan, particularly its armed forces, continued to strive hard to fight the adversaries and were never demoralized. Now that terrorism in the country has largely been controlled, Pakistan needs to generate its image as a ‘soft power’ to promote its positive aspects and build a favourable international narrative about itself. It needs to propagate its culture and its natural beauty in a more impactful manner and this can only be achieved through a sound public relations exercise. Pakistan must show the world that it is a courageous and peaceful nation which can fight with great will and resolve and has nothing to do with terrorism. The media, the foreign office or the country’s representatives sitting in the United Nations and other major world capitals, do not seem to bother about this aspect. The media does not use its reach and clout in telling the world the good story about Pakistan. The TV channels broadcasting to various countries use separate beams to do so. If the culture of promoting Pakistan’s soft image were to be initiated by the TV channels in their local broadcasts, it would also be shown through their foreign beams and, instead of crime, accidents, kidnappings, terrorism and other negative stories about Pakistan, there would be talk of the country’s rich cultural and historical heritage and its beauty and this would go towards building a soft image of the nation.

Pakistan also has a ministry of information which is the official arm responsible for the information function. The ministry only pays lip service to whoever is in power and takes no measures to promote stories about the overall growth in the national economy, focus on the attractive investment climate or promote the country’s tourism potential. In fact, a ministry is not even required and is an unnecessary burden on the national exchequer. Instead, the Pakistani media – all the TV/radio channels, the print media and the social media – could get together and agree on a policy to devise material that focuses on the country’s natural heritage and promotes a culture of harmony, leading to economic and social excellence. Such a policy would need to dispel negativism in its content and replace it with positive projection so that a narrative of a soft national image can be developed.


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