Improving Pakistan’s Global Image

A country’s image is defined by Martin and Eroglu “as the total of all descriptive, inferential and informational beliefs one has about a particular country”. Importance of a positive global image of a country in this rapidly globalizing world cannot be overemphasised.  Whether it is question of access to foreign markets for increasing exports and importing technology or attracting foreign capital, it is the overall image of a country which becomes crucial in the decision-making process of those involved.

Saying that Pakistan does not carry a good image in the eyes of the global opinion makers, media, and the public is an understatement. Read any news item published in any foreign newspaper about Pakistan and you can have first-hand information about the way world perceives Pakistan. While reports about Pakistanis involved in honour killings, child labour, domestic violence, financial scandals or drug trafficking etc have exacerbated the situation, our expatriates have also not been able to build a positive image of the country.

Same is the case with our social, economic, political and technological status. Although we are the 26th largest economy in the world but read any global indicator and you will invariably find Pakistan in awkward positions. Whether it is the Human Development Index or the Global Corruption Index on the one hand or the Global Competitiveness Index or the Global Fragile States Index on the other, we are always bracketed with the least developed countries. The only positive news coming from abroad is our comfortable ranking in the recently released Global Happiness Index

A country’ global image depends upon several factors such as its historical legacy, foreign policy options, internal strengths and weaknesses and how all these are projected in its media and how these are received by the opinion makers and governing elite of the other countries. Pakistan has been unlucky on all these accounts for one reason or other

Pakistan’s creation on religious basis was considered an oddity without appreciating the historical context in which it came into existence. Pakistan Movement, though couched in religious terminology, was basically a movement by the downtrodden Muslim community of the British India to safeguard their socioeconomic interests and fulfil their dreams of improving the quality of life in a country where they could live according to their cherished dreams.

After the achievement of its objective, this theory became irrelevant and was rightly replaced with Pakistan Ideology aptly embodied in the Principles of Policy of our Constitution. These Principles of Policy such as Islamic way of life, democratic form of government, full participation of women, protection of family, protection of minorities, promotion of social justice and economic wellbeing of the people and strengthening of bonds with the Muslim world and promoting international peace are the basic pillars of Pakistan Ideology. Unfortunately, even after 70 years we are unable to create a global identity which is in sync with this ideology. This identification confusion is not only a conceptual issue but have policy implications particularly in our foreign policy options.

Our foreign policy options were very limited and reactionary right from the start. Our security imperatives forced us to join the Western camp during the heydays of the Cold War, making us a pariah in the Non-aligned Block. Our policy choices, particularly our siding with the West during the Suez Canal crises, alienated us from the Muslim block. We emerged as culprit rather than a victim in the 1971 East Pakistan war. Frequent imposition of Martial Laws has further tarnished our image as a stable political entity. Last straw on camel’s back was the so-called Afghan Jihad which sowed the seed of terrorism in this part of the world, making Pakistan look like sponsor of terrorism.

Given the above, how to create an image of Pakistan as a responsible and respectable nation-state which is at peace within and at peace outside and enjoying a global status which is commensurate with its size and geostrategic position? This is the challenge of creating the brand name of Pakistan-what it is, where it stands and what it stands for. Here are some suggestions

Firstly, let us own our roots. Every modern nation-state is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious entity having different markers for its identification. No doubt Pakistan came into existence in the name of Islam, but religion was one of the identification markers used by the founding fathers to create a separate state, fearing persecution in a post-colonial United India for being Muslims. Let us now develop a consensus that besides being a Muslim majority state with multi-ethnic composition, Pakistan is the inheritor of thousands of years old Mehargarh, Mohenjo-Daro and other civilizations belonging to the greater Indus Valley Civilization. As such we are South Asians and are proud of our roots. Only a firmly anchored people command respect, not the rolling stones.

Secondly, we need to strengthen our institutions. Constitution has clear-cut role demarcation of every institution-let it be implemented in letter and spirit. Courts are the last resort of providing justice, not the first forum of choice. Judiciary should restrain itself while taking suo moto notices involving political issues. Same is true for the armed forces which should resist the desire to fix everything. However, for this, the political elite will have to play a very proactive role starting with the depoliticization of the institutions and their capacity building.

The professional competence of those manning the vital institutions such as judiciary, bureaucracy and armed forces is the only guarantee for putting the country on the right trajectory of growth and creating its positive image in the world. It means the recruitment, appointment, transfer, posting and all other career matters should be decided on merit without involving political pressure or patronage.

For this purpose, federal and provincial legislatures should reinvigorate the committee system whose value lies in their ability to lead the debate on specific policies, conduct detailed investigations and inquiries on issues of public importance, and engage civil society in the legislative process. To fully restore parliamentary sovereignty, legislators should be putting themselves at the centre of the domestic and foreign policy debate to minimise the chances of any institution other than the parliament to dictate the agenda

Thirdly, accelerated economic growth. Nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. Other things being equal, if a country is experiencing a healthy growth rate over a period, its image automatically starts improving. No one gives two hoots to a country which is constantly begging the donors for bailouts. Let us devote our energies to economic development including human and social development for a decade and see how Pakistan gets a prominent place in the global rankings in all the indices. However, this growth process should be inclusive, and its results are shared by all

Fourthly, democratic development. Despite all its shortcomings, democracy is still the best form of political management of a country. Frequent imposition of Martial Laws in the country has not only left their deep scars in every facet of the political economy of Pakistan; they have also badly tarnished the global image of the country. To improve our image, let the democratic process be allowed to run its course. Global and historical experience indicates that frequent and fair elections are the ultimate panacea for correcting the alleged pitfalls of democracy. Interruptions to the democratic process for any reason create more problems than solutions in Pakistan. All major Pakistani political parties should make a pledge to the nation to uphold the supremacy of the parliament by discussing any issue on the floor of the house instead of resorting to agitational politics.

Fifthly, reigning in non-state violent actors. Writing in the Asian Affairs Journal (16th November 2016) Nadir Cheema, an academic at the School of Oriental and African Studies and UCL, University of London stated

“A survey, conducted exclusively for this article, set out to examine the nature and origins of such negative views about Pakistan. Members of the Foreign Service Programme class of 2016 at the University of Oxford, mainly comprised of diplomats from all over the world, were asked ‘what three things come to mind when you hear about Pakistan?’ Most respondents cited nuclear weapons, terrorism, security, Islam, and the Taliban, lending support to the general view of Pakistan as a militarised state involved with Islamic extremism.”

This is really unfortunate that a country which has paid a heavy price for being a non-NATO ally losing more than 75,000 lives during the 16 years long US-led ‘war on terror’ should be labelled as such. There is a time to gather stones and there is a time to throw them away. We gathered a lot of these stones during Afghan Jihad: now they have become a huge liability, an albatross. Let us get rid of them. Even their chief sponsors, the Middle Eastern countries are disowning them. There is no point in sponsoring them now.

Sixthly, controlling corruption. Although we are no more in the list of ten most corrupt counties of the world we used to be in the 1990s, yet the image persists of our being a corrupt country. That needs to be corrected. Corruption does not exist in a vacuum; there are certain conditions which promote it. The widespread poverty and inequality without any social safety networks for the disadvantaged create necessary conditions for the prevalence of widespread corruption. Low level of salaries for public office holders without a properly established code of conduct to check their misuse of authority are the biggest cause of corruption. In the absence of effective oversight institutions to enforce transparency and accountability and excessive state control on resource allocation in the presence of complex, poorly-defined, constantly changing and inadequate rules and regulations further exacerbate the situation.


Relying on the foreign office to build a positive image of Pakistan is putting the cart before the horse. It is very easy to blame the foreign office for their failure to project a soft image of Pakistan which is at peace within and at peace outside without realizing that the foreign office of a country is just its marketing department. It can market and sell only those goods and services which are produced domestically; do not expect it to perform miracles by selling the domestic failures as successes. No way. Improvement must start with house cleaning which can be then projected through various means including the foreign office.

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