Former Pakistani diplomat Inayatullah's column in The Nation yesterday referred to Pakistan' Information Minister, Dr Firdous Ashiq's 17-point Pakistan's true-face programme. The programme is aimed at rebuilding Pakistan's image and "correcting" world's perception about Pakistan according to "actual ground realities."
Inayatullah, while welcoming the idea, correctly put it in perspective stating that Pakistan needs to put its house in order first before venturing on a charm offensive. The Pakistani establishment can only ignore at its own peril the fact that the country is synonymous with anarchy, international terrorism and is referred to as a 'failed state.' Nonetheless, the move does bring into focus a very important question related to Public Diplomacy.
- Can PD stand up to the challenge and contain the damage to Pakistan's tattered reputation?
- Is PD irrelevant without concrete policy actions and results to show for?
- Can Pakistan afford to ignore PD?
I hope the information minister is not living in denial and decides on a course of action that is 'real.' If the world media has portrayed an image of Pakistan - and that means hundreds of reporters from all across the world - it is a reality check for its policymakers. A realistic appraisal of the ground realities, acceptance of the problems and a strong policy partnership with the foreign ministry, armed forces, interior ministry can go a long way in the creation of a narrative that would find acceptance in media discourses. Since Pakistan's polity is highly fragmented it would be quite a challenge to achieve the policy partnership with other ministries, nonetheless is worth a try. PD is not about propaganda, not about creating an image alone but also about shaping discussions, influencing conversations and creating perceptions to achieve strategic goals. There is plenty of scope for Pakistan to undertake PD exercises in this context. Media (i.e. journalists) loves conflict and I do see plenty of opportunities for 'a ray of light in the abyss of darkness' stories for Pakistan to dish out among numerous other activities that it can undertake to generate real conversations.
For this to happen, Pakistan has to find the budget to 'indulge' in PD. Can a country that survives on aid, cannot feed its own population or fight its own wars afford to put money into PD?