Need for shaping global opinion
The era of information exchange, mass communication, and rapid transmission has hatched a term that is commonly referred to as ‘public/global opinion’. Due to this mass media and enhanced connectivity, the proliferation of information (whether right or wrong) is a pertinent reality of modern life. Consequently and unequivocally, this vast outreach of mass media and scale of connectivity cannot only shape but mold/morph the global opinions through designed narratives.
Unfortunately, since the last two decades, almost every news (regarding Pakistan) appearing on whether national or international media remain detrimental to the soft image of Pakistanis as a nation. A portion of this unhappy reality can be attributed to the shortsightedness of our politicians (especially those in high benches) whose visions are mostly blurred from political animosity. Accusing own country of Mumbai attacks, blaming previous governments on international forums for any existing turmoil, recent PIA fake degree pilots news are few cases in point where the objective revolved around political point-scoring only without realizing the international humiliation and repercussions.
To add on, the international community mostly remains aloof from any positive development in our country or the achievements of our people due to the lack/absence of any positive projection at appropriate platforms.
In this era of global interdependency, Pakistan; grappled with numerous challenges, definitely needs international backing for resolution of some of her very core issues. This perhaps will and can never be achieved in its essence without projection of a soft image of Pakistan whereby the international community can visualize our country as “Land of Opportunities”.
Indian growing influence: A case study
Since the 1990s, India has emerged as a key player on the international geopolitical scene mainly due to the confluence of interests with global powers. Besides, India’s global influence especially in academia, media, and technology industries is also on the increase despite numerous domestic challenges. Hence, today India is reaping the benefits of establishing long-term economic and strategic ties with the international community, who often ignore Indian belligerence in Kashmir and against its neighbors. The international silence on recent abrogation of the special status of Kashmir is a testimony to these developments. The role of the influential and educated Indian diaspora is significant in this success of India with the following few contributing factors:
- India, with its large English speaking population and influential diaspora, has made considerable strides in the field of social sciences, humanities, and geopolitical studies. It is common today that the chairs relating to South Asian affairs, or even Asia at large, are held by scholars of Indian origin in most top universities and think-tanks. These attainments do reap dividends in the long term as one may look at main sources on Indo-Pakistan history, Kashmir issue, and wars to observe that India has been able to influence the analysis and research on these subjects by taking the initiative and encouraging their academics and scholars.
- Moreover, India has been very successful in instituting numerous think-tanks that, in addition to producing quality research, also establish links with influential scholars and policymakers abroad. As per Global Think Tank Index – 2019, India had the second-highest number of active think-tanks in the world; 509 in total, with Pakistan having only 25.
- Furthermore, many leading global research institutes have significant Indian presence, e.g. one of the most prominent think-tanks in the world, the Brookings Institution even has a Brookings India Centre in New Delhi since 2013.
In addition to above, the spirit of nationalism (e.g., banning Chinese apps on just petty stand-offs), pride in diverse/rich culture, and publicizing the same on a wider scale (especially through media, film/music industry) to propagate soft image, and other effective policies for maximum international engagement through soft power have catalyzed the overall effort in furtherance of her growing influence.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s global influence compared to India is not very encouraging. A pertinent example is the Kashmir issue as even after more than 70 years of human rights abuses in Kashmir by India, our repetitive but ineffective pleas have failed to convince the international community and in drawing their attention towards prevailing fascist regime and Hindutva ideology in India.
The question then arises as to why Pakistan has not been successful in achieving the requisite influence in the global geopolitical scenario. Notwithstanding our struggling diplomatic policies, perhaps, the answer to this unhappy reality lies in our non-existing intrusion into the international academic and research world for which the main factors are as under:
- Lack of institutional approach to enhance global outreach and failure to capitalize on elements of soft power and other contemporary means available to publicize individual or collective achievements and project pro-Pakistan soft image vis-à-vis countering hostile narratives.
- Failure to ascertain the importance of investing in academia / intellectual domains, which would have played its role in not only timely identification of issues like diminishing influence but also presenting apt solutions by sowing some influential seeds amongst international community vis-à-vis building a soft image. As a result, the quality of instruction and research at our universities failed to achieve the requisite standards that can produce a hefty number of world-class academics and researchers worthy of picturing the positive image of Pakistan as a country and Islam as a peaceful religion.
- In Pakistan, we have seen an explosion of news channels in the last decade and a half. Resultantly, the common Pakistani public is a lot more informed and opinionated about national issues today than it was in the 1980s or 1990s. Nevertheless, almost all of our news channels are Urdu based, which while fulfilling the purposes of informing the general public and garnering adequate ratings, fails to internationalize our narrative on regional security. Hence, today international community mostly remains dependent on either foreign regional channels or correspondents of international news channels working in Pakistan (BBC, Al-Jazeera, etc.), who only try to remain in line with previous global opinions.
The weapon of media
- India has a prominent electronic media which in addition to local language news channels, also has several influential English news channels. This helps India in educating its ‘diaspora’ (and supporters among the international community) about its narrative on issues, which then goes on to exert substantial influence abroad. Moreover, a rich contemporary English vocabulary and powerful catchphrases also helps Indian narrative to reverberate at appropriate platforms. Therefore, it needs to be understood on our part that today phrases like “freedom struggle” and “root cause” invite inattention and disregard; the global opinion tends not to associate itself with such causes and ends anymore. Whereas phrases like “fighting terrorism” and “maintaining order in the region” resonate with the global audience, even if the pronouncement and reality might differ.
- Furthermore, it can also be stated that clever rebuke or rejection of punchlines and catchphrases can limit their use by foreign experts. A pertinent example is the liberal usage of the phrase “cross-border terrorism” by Indian commentators. It is surprising that so far none of the Pakistani commentators, academics or writers have rebuked this phrase internationally by stating that the first example of “cross-border terrorism” in South Asia was India’s active and wholehearted material, military and financial backing of the Mukti Bahini in the former East Pakistan.
- It needs to be stated from the outset that the encouragement of the English language does not imply a denigration of Urdu or other local languages. We need to present our narrative in clear and fairly simple terms. Hence, debate on national issues and Pakistan’s foreign policy matters in the English language must be encouraged to educate the public and to project our narratives globally. This includes but is not limited to, encouraging domestic English language news channels. We should also work towards establishing influential international media outlets (as done by Russia through RT) to effectively counter the negative perceptions about Pakistan’s role in war against terrorism and other domestic/foreign policies.
- National and private news channels must be encouraged to enhance their broadcast/scope for international coverage after adapting to the right language, tone and tenor that suits contemporary international audience and to effectively blend own narrative with global opinion. Diversity of opinion in the debates on key national issues must be encouraged. This will not only help in benefiting from a wider pool of wisdom, but the eventual consensus will also reflect a level of diversity, which can deter accusations that the narrative lacks academic or journalistic credibility, or that it is state-sponsored (model of ‘Inside Story’ on Al-Jazeera Network).
Effective positive projection through maximum platforms
- The chances of acceptance of own narrative/opinion will increase significantly if it is framed effectively and attractively through contemporary means/methods (use of visual cosmetics etc.) by simplifying complex data into easily digestible information.
- Notwithstanding the right technique, the scale of projection through diversified platforms is also of immense importance to target the masses (as done by mainstream media owners by using social media platforms e.g., all news channels have their YouTube / Twitter accounts, News Apps, etc.). Therefore, we must make an earnest effort to not only promote positive aspects of Pakistan and its people but also to publicize our narrative on national issues by circulating the same on all media platforms (print, electronic, social media networks) for wider circulation.
- We should take lead from Turkish media whose many drama serials (particularly the ones based on the history of the Ottoman empire) have been commended all across the globe. Therefore, people in showbiz and our thriving film industry must also be convinced to promote our history and rich culture with positivity as soft power diplomacy. Same will also assist in instilling/reviving the spirit of nationalism and pride in being Pakistanis.
Role of Pakistani diaspora
- The positive role of diaspora increases manifolds in case of any untoward incident in Pakistan. However, it can only be useful once the diaspora possesses sufficient influence and credibility not only to be heard upon and listened to; but also to befittingly counter any anti-state narrative being nurtured within its own as well as international community members.
- Our diaspora needs to play a bigger role than just community meetings and disaster relief donations. This must involve but should not be limited to fraternizing and mingling with local and other foreign communities abroad. To enhance interactions and individual/collective engagements, they must partake in healthy social activities and share festivities on every national as well as international and cultural occasions.
- In an age of rapid exchange of information and connectivity, maximum media platforms must also be capitalized upon to clear skepticism generally prevalent in the western society with regards to our religion as well as region. For this, help of renowned foreign Muslim scholars and intellectuals must be sought to target masses through credibility. Hence, a diversified platform with a wider agenda is the need of hour to internationalize our national cause at a rapid pace.
- With a very humane sentiment generally prevalent among the masses in the western societies, it becomes very significant to humanize our narratives by shaping our agenda and demands on pro-humanitarian grounds. A pertinent example is Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmiri struggle. The legal and political grounds have mostly been in Pakistan’s favor, however, it is important to detail the sufferings of Kashmiris through visual aids to gain sympathetic international support for their cause. The same method must also apply in projecting the sacrifices laid by our nation in the war against terrorism in which we are mostly opinionated as the rogues playing a destructive role only.
Supporting Pakistani scholars and academics in their efforts to seek prized chairs at top universities and major think-tanks
It is of prime importance that Pakistanis and commentators sympathetic to their cause must be found in mainstream / influential institutions. Therefore, we need to actively support prominent overseas Pakistanis who have the potential to reach positions of influence abroad (especially those in important western countries like the US, UK, etc.). For this, we need to:
- Devise an institutional approach to ensure adequate financial support/scholarship programs on a wider scale for our promising young scholars and researchers in recognized international universities.
- Bring educational reforms by revising our existing curriculum as per contemporary requirements and encourage an environment of questioning and transparency in our education system.
In my opinion, there is no dearth of resources for solutions to our numerous problems and challenges. However, all we need is the sincerity of effort and honesty in our resolve to start this journey which begins with the belief that ‘PAKISTAN MUST ALWAYS COME FIRST’.
Author: Ch. Awais Afzal
The writer is an officer in Pakistan Administrative Services and can be reached at: awais.afzal.91(at)gmail(dot)com.