It is interesting that the Federal Information Minister, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, has come up with the 17-point Pakistan’s true-face programme. The media and our press officials abroad would be harnessed. The programme includes an interaction with think-tanks abroad. The Information Minister is being hailed as a visionary for thinking up a great idea, which promises wonderful results.
In fact, there is nothing new about such plans or programmes. It is well known that what is called ‘public diplomacy’ has been practised by many countries over the years, as a matter of routine activities abroad, including the USA and the UK. In some of my previous columns, I have been pressing the need for launching public diplomacy initiatives to educate the media and think-tank influentials. It is well understood that our Embassies abroad have severe limitations in undertaking such subtle tasks because of a host of procedural and protocol constraints. Even an ultra-active Ambassador is not in a position to discharge such functions.
The media - print and electronic, especially the latter - plays an enormous role in shaping ideas and opinion, which ultimately percolate to leading members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the US and MPs in the UK. Important departments and agencies of the administration in these countries are also influenced by the newspaper editorials and high-level discussion on the TV channels. Often policies emerge out of the information and reports emanating from the think-tanks and lobbies.
I recall talking to a former Pakistani Foreign Minister about setting up a public diplomacy unit in the Foreign Office. But he showed little interest in the proposal. Later when I talked to the Foreign Secretary, he responded positively to the idea, but said there was no budget for such activity.
To ensure that this True-Face-of-Pakistan campaign achieves some results, the rulers of the day have first to come clean about the state of affairs in this country. What kind of image Pakistan has today, abroad? Can we deny that Pakistan presently is widely known as the centre of terrorism, and that Pakistani armed forces have been fighting terrorist groups for the last many years?
Take corruption. Our senior most political officeholders stand accused of high corruption. Because of this unfortunate factor, corrupt ways have spread across ministries, departments, public corporations down to the lower rungs of the government. This not only entails a huge misuse of funds, but also adds to the distress and pain of the common man.
In a democracy, institutions are very much respected and there is rule of law. Here we have a President and Prime Minister, who refuse to abide by rules and time-honoured conventions. Here the presidency and the governors’ official residences have been turned into playgrounds for party and partisan affairs. The President, according to the Constitution, is the symbol of unity of the country. How can he keep up this image if in the presidency, frequent party politics engagements are held and all kind of slogans chanted? The same can be said for Governors’ Houses in Punjab and Sindh.
The less said about governance, the better. How, indeed, merit is flagrantly disregarded in making appointments! A classic case was the appointment of a matriculate ex-convict to the high and prestigious post of the head of a public corporation. Amazing is the way the Pakistan Railways has been allowed to deteriorate and disintegrate, how PIA has been packed with party workers and fatally weakened by sheer mismanagement and how the Steel Mill reduced to a burdensome, ailing entity.
Pakistan is lucky today to have an independent judiciary. But for its watchful interventions, many corruption scandals would have remained unaddressed.
Today, Pakistan’s economy is in the pits. Taxation to gross national product is one of the lowest in the world. Gas and electricity shortages and loadshedding have ruined industry and harmed the transport sector, pushing the already devastated common man further into misery.
Add to “true face” picture, the law and order conditions. Because of the economic crunch, dacoities and robberies have become the order of the day. Kidnapping for ransom is assuming alarming proportions. Personal security is so vulnerable that the people have to thank God every day for keeping them alive and unharmed. Think of the largest city and commercial capital of the country and there is an unending thrust of target killings.
To this listing of lapses and defaults may be added the way the beleaguered government threw a spanner in the works of the memo case. How the star “witness” was frightened off successfully by the Interior Minister and party bigwigs. (The Commission should pursue the matter to the logical end and go abroad to record Ijaz Mansoor’s evidence.)
What takes the cake in the current picture of the country is the cavalier way the verdicts and directives of the highest court have been and are being defied - so to say, to save the boss. The Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to obey the Supreme Court order to write the letter to the Swiss courts.
It is sad how an honourable and capable lawyer, like Aitzaz Ahsan, is playing party politics in his arguments before the court. We all know how the deposed judges were restored. Aitzaz himself was the recipient of a phone call from the Chief of Army Staff about the decision to restore the judges. It was much later in the night that the Prime Minister followed this development when he formally announced the decision.
For Aitzaz to advance the plea that the Prime Minister had obliged the Supreme Court by restoring them was, to say the least, inappropriate. Again referring to the PM’s acceptance of advice from government legal officials as a ground for not obeying the court’s order was, indeed, inapt.
With the aforementioned credentials, can the government paint a good picture for Pakistan abroad? Yes, there are some bright doings, like the Finance Award, the 18th Amendment and the firm stand taken after the Salalah killings - though under public pressure - to close the Shamsi Airbase, stop the supply of goods to Nato troops and boycott the Bonn Conference. But can these actions whitewash the government’s black record? Just look at what happened, the other day, at the US House of Representative Foreign Relations Committee hearings about Balochistan. The government’s culpable neglect of this burning issue is unpardonable!
If at all a somewhat wholesome picture of Pakistan has to be projected by the Information Ministry, the federal government will have to honestly begin to take necessary steps to put its house in order. And if really knowledgeable and capable media men and women, as also legislators and intellectuals, are asked to undertake the task envisaged.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.