- Putting things right
Prime Minister Imran Khan during his maiden visit to the ministry of foreign affairs while sharing his vision in the domain of foreign relations with the concerned officials also emphasised the need to project positive image of the country among the comity of nations. In view of the prevailing global environment Pakistan unfortunately does not have an enviable image among the fraternity of nations, mainly attributable to the phenomenon of terrorism and religious extremism which also pose an existentialist threat to the country. No person in his right mind would take an issue with what the prime minister has said.
We have been hearing similar voices from our rulers about projecting soft image of Pakistan internationally and calling for a paradigm shift in the conduct of our foreign policy, with greater emphasis on public diplomacy as an effective and indispensable ingredient of the strategy to achieve the desired objectives. But regrettably no credible and concrete steps were taken to achieve the desired objective. We have a dismal record in regards to realigning our foreign policy priorities with the new emerging global realities and the new mechanisms evolved as a consequence of the ability of the emerging technologies to expand the horizons and options available to conduct public diplomacy. Instead of pursuing pro-active policies tuned to the changing realities, we have remained stuck to a rather regressive approach steeped into a visceral aversion to the well thought out and well researched decision making processes.
The focus regrettably remains on traditional diplomacy and mechanisms devised to promote and facilitate state-to-state relations rather than public diplomacy which from its previous emphasis on developing contacts between a state and publics of another state, has of late transited into the realm of people-to-people contacts on bilateral level as well as state-to-global audience outreach. A phenomenon made possible by the new technologies like internet, digital communications and new techniques of public relations on the global plank through the use of the vast array of media outlets.
Pakistan is the most misunderstood country in the world and the phenomenon of terrorism and religious extremism, arguably, is a leading factor in distorting its image on the global level. Pakistan as a front line state in the war on terror has suffered the most in men and material, but regrettably our allies and western countries look askance at our endeavours, doubt our commitment to the cause at hand and decidedly remain oblivious to our national and strategic interests in the region.
Prime Minister Imran Khan needs to give more attention to reinvigorating the press sections in the Pakistan embassies abroad ensuring that they are also well-equipped with required paraphernalia
The western media with its all-permeating power and unfettered global outreach is also feverishly engaged in maligning Pakistan and soiling its image among the comity of nations. Under the prevailing circumstances it is absolutely essential for the government, besides relying on the state-to-state diplomacy, also accord top priority to the efforts to create a better understanding of Pakistan’s position and its image internationally, countering the negative propaganda against it and projecting a soft image of the country premised on the positive things that have happened in the arena of war on terror as well as the measures adopted to improve economic, social and political conditions in line with the globally accepted principles. The emergence of an independent judiciary and a free media in Pakistan are indeed epoch making developments. The strides taken towards gender equality and empowerment of women are also very positive developments.
These achievements can be used to achieve desired results provided the government takes concrete measures to strengthen its PR apparatus at the international level. This is the age of information, media and specialisation. As such image building assignment needs to be handled by well equipped, trained and professional officials of the Information service, constituted for the very purpose. But it is matter of great shame that our press sections in the foreign missions are either not properly equipped or lack the wherewithal that is necessary to do justice with their roles. It is not only a much needed compulsion to strengthen these outfits but also to expand their network to the areas that hitherto have escaped the attention of the government. We do not have any presence in important capitals of Central Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Putting in place arrangements for capacity building of the press officers, language courses, streamlining the procedure for their foreign postings free of political influence are some of the steps that can immensely contribute towards building soft image of Pakistan. It is a matter of great shame that the posts of the press officers in some of the important capitals of the world like Berlin, Washington, London and New Delhi have remained vacant during the last five years and no effort was made to post press officers there.
It is also a pity that whenever during the last regimes austerity drives were announced the axe has invariably fallen on the press sections abroad. A numberof press sections have been abolished also curtailing the number of posts of the press officers abroad.
Traditional diplomacy has its own advantages and efficacy but it cannot match the power of public diplomacy conducted through media in changing perceptions and attitudes of the people and influencing their judgments. Pakistan needs a sustained and well orchestrated effort to use the power of media and the PR regime to address the issue of image building in the larger and long term interest of the country. The importance of well managed press sections in our missions abroad headed by well trained officers of the Information Group can hardly be over-emphasised. There is an imperative need for getting our priorities right and staying in line with the emerging global realities. It is an unavoidable national obligation and must not be allowed to become a casualty of the moves aimed at frugality.
Prime Minister Imran Khan needs to give more attention to reinvigorating the press sections in the Pakistan embassies abroad ensuring that they are also well-equipped with required paraphernalia to be able to produce desired results. I am sure that Imran Khan really means what he has said about improving the image of the country at the international level and would match his words with concrete steps to make that happen. The newly appointed Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also seems an energetic individual who has ample understanding about the importance and power of the media. It is hoped that he would not only play his role in redefining the role of his ministry in line with the emerging realities but would also pay adequate attention to strengthening of the press sections abroad. He can immediately initiate the process by posting the press officers to the stations which have remained vacant during the last five years.