Why perception matters

Pakistan suffers reputational damage by being seen to be perpetually in crisis, both internal and external, which hardly creates any positive international image of the country. Unfortunately, the recent events that unfolded after the arrest of ex-PM Imran Khan also reinforced the similar belief that the country is being steered towards the edge of a hanging cliff.

Days like May 9 stay as dents in the history of the country. Protesters, as violent as they may seem, were unable to differentiate between the government and the state. The government too was indecisive and made no efforts to make its message go through the masses to defuse a volatile situation. Consequently, mob psychology took over.

Once again the country was bleeding while all the stakeholders were eye-ball to eye-ball. The perception of the country was further damaged. The hostile players were playing the trumpet in the international market.

Retrospect is essential. It has long been acknowledged that international perceptions are integral to a country’s reputation and even its geopolitical clout in international politics as recently mentioned by veteran writer and diplomat Maliha Lodhi in her Op-ed ‘Why Soft Power Counts’ published in a local daily.

Mian Mehmood-ul-Hassan, former consul general of Moldova and an expert in international trade and commerce has also expressed concerned: ‘May 9 severely damaged our reputation as a nation across the globe. It was hard for our international diaspora to explain to the world what is happening in the country. This will further scare the investors from investing in Pakistan.’

One finds it very perplexing to see what is happening in the country. Everyone seems busy enjoying the orchestra while the Titanic is sinking.

Optics have never been this important before in history. Even world leaders are investing hugely in projecting a soft image in front of the world. China, for instance, has several such ventures. The recent mediation of rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has enhanced its role as a global leader. The Global Soft Power Index 2023, focused on determining the soft power of a country in the world, ranks the US as number one and Canada as number five while Pakistan lies below the bottom half.

We can no longer ignore where we need to look.

The World Bank’s recent review of Human Capital for Pakistan should be an eye-opener. Our comparison group is some of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa while all our neighbours are ahead of us.

Our population growth is still too high, too many children die in infancy, too many mothers die in maternity or are malnourished, too many children grow up malnourished or stunted, 23 million children aged 5-16 years remain out of school, most children get poor quality education, skill programmes do not exist for most children, and people do not have access to safe drinking water and decent waste disposal facilities.

While ensuring law and order, the government must realise it cannot maintain law unless it invests in its citizens.

With the population growth that we have and no policies for curbing population growth rates, and in the absence of any priority accorded to it, we are looking at a country that will not be able to provide for the basic needs of most of its population. Pakistan is one of the countries that is very vulnerable to climate change as well. All this leads to further anarchy.

With malnourishment at 40% in our children, how much of our children’s potential is being destroyed? What kind of adults are they going to grow into? What will they be able to do for themselves, their families and the country?

The colliding institutions must read the writing on the wall before it is too late. Child education, food security, measures to combat climate change are essential for a hopeful future for the country. The masses and the international community should see us working towards a decent future.

We must shun the perception of always in crisis and at institutional battles. Only smart statesmanship can keep our sinking ship afloat. Sense should prevail.

Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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