Should the media be more positive about Pakistan?

April 26, 2008

File photo of Nanga ParbatIn the comments on our blog earlier this month Pakistan: Breaking Down the Stereotypes one thing stands out – that people in Pakistan are tired of it being portrayed as a failed state and blame the western media for focusing too narrowly on suicide bombings rather than the achievements and attractions of the country.

You can read all the comments here and I am reproducing some below:

“Pakistan has always been portrayed in the media as a failed or dangerous country. In reality, this is totally absurd and false. The recent elections in Pakistan proves my point. They are progressive, they want peace and most of all they mean business.” - Posted by arif

“It is quite unfortunate that Pakistan has now become a synonym with suicide bombings and militancy, however, it is more than that. A thriving economy, booming telecom, construction , financial and IT market, Pakistan offers a lot more than what is on the news” - Posted by Kashif

“Pakistan is the best country in the world. It has everything. Beautiful country, beautiful people.. powerful military, fastest growing economy, best relations with other countries (other than communist India), awesome food.. what else does one need?” - Posted by Ahsan.

These comments encouraged me to put up the following video, mostly of the moutains in the north, which is one of the most popular videos of Pakistan on YouTube.  The accompanying music is a little bit dated, but photos are worth a look. I also e-mailed Waseem Khan Jadoon, who posted the video, to ask about it and he made the following comment:

“I uploaded this video because I want to show the world that we Pakistanis are not terrorists. Stop spreading propaganda against Pakistan especially western media. Promote peace and harmony in the world rather than hatism towards different religions and regions.”

YouTube Preview Image 

Of course, as a journalist watching this video, I see not only my favourite part of the world, but also glaciers melting because of global warming; the divided former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, the potential for fights between India and Pakistan over water from Kashmir’s rivers; and the obvious tensions of an area that lies between India, Pakistan and China.

So are our commenters right that the media is too negative about Pakistan? Or are we simply trying to highlight the risks in the years ahead?

   

14 comments

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The thing to keep in mind is that when the media talks too much a place from a certain angle, people (especially outsiders) start to believe that is all there is to the story. This is certainly true not just for Pakistan, but for many other places.

As a journalist myself I find that the media holds a great responsibility. The vast majority of the people in the world have never visited to Pakistan – so all they know is what the news tells them.

However I do feel the negative aspects need to continue to be highlighted – this is important. But it needs to be balanced with the positive. Otherwise people only associate the country with ‘trouble.’

I appreciate this article by Myra MacDonald to show the true and positive picture of Pakistan!More news articles should come along as we are’nt as bad a nation as media have portrayed us! I was reading this news that India have banned 4 Pakistani Channels across Occupied Kashimr, but sadly no one took notice of it. I mean no articles about media freedom been taken away by India or etc.Why was the World so hot about it whn Pakistan banned it here only.I mean media did a good thing by criticising the Pak Govt act,but why dont they do it against Indian Govt.?!

anyways…article appreciated:)

Posted by assad | Report as abusive

Thank you Ms. MacDonald for posting these comments. Western media saver had represented the third world countries in a true reflections of their societies and culture, Why? I do not know, but I think its all related to the western countries geopolitical and economic interest. It is true that Pakistani society face many challenges, which require s leadership like that of Mr. Mandela of South Africa to tackle. Unfortunately, there is no Mr. Mandela in Pakistan and with present situation in neighboring countries, its the US that dictates what the Pakistani needs to do to please the masters.Media should highlights both good and bad in order to gain trust of the public.

Posted by Denali | Report as abusive

There’s clearly an array of powers at work creating the case right now for a war on the Pashtun tribal regions. These things don’t just happen in a vacuum. Wars seem to start with the careful choreography of the news media. The war masters, the maestros, start feeding their lap dogs, the press. The music is then played by the press for the rest of us to hear.

Notice how all the papers are beginning to play the same thing about the Afghan and Pakistan border? The theme of “lawless frontier” is being played every week. The sound drowns out the reality of a noble 5000 year old culture of some 42-million people.

We hear instead about the vilified denizens of a “lawless tribal frontier.”

What you missed it? Well, it’s only been playing for about two weeks. You need to tune in to the inside pages. The maestros have been composing for a while longer…. Their creative juices kicked in about the time Sen. Obama, answering one of those deadly sucker-punch sound bite questions showed us his war face telling us he would take action on “high-value terrorist targets” in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf “won’t act.

That’s the sunshine it took to start the war-sap flowing. War-sap is sticky stuff, its residue has been known to encapsulate the creatures that get too near and preserve them there for posterity.

There is a legal system in place of course, in this lawless frontier. It’s been there for 5000 years. The Pashtun call the system the jirga. But its not part of the sharia law, it’s unique to the Pashtun and precedes Islam by thousands of years. But we don’t sing about that just now.

Please, I definitely don’t want the Pashtun to start signing their homeland song either. I don’t want to learn that an 1893 border line drawn with the blessing of Queen Victoria divided a group of mountain dwellers along the Afghan and Pakistan boarder in two.

I thought mountain ridges where proper borders. Everybody uses them. I just can’t handle the sound of another this-a-stan or that-a-stan popping up. So please, I don’t want to know about a Pashtunistan. And I definitely have no interest in anything 5000 years old, if it means Obama can catch Osama on good intelligence, bring it on! That should be Commander Obama’s war face call: “Bring it on!” Hmmmm, that sounds familiar.

What is this Pashtuni-whatever, Pashtunwali, anyway?

It’s a code of conduct. The Pashtun openly express somewhat defiantly, total cultural independence and have seen conquering armies and powers come and go through the millennia. Probably because of their original geographic high mountain foothold they could stand off vast armies with terrain advantage. Well it’s about time maybe for all that to stop.

If the Pashtun just hang in there with there non-violent thesis a few more generations, they’ll be the dominant culture of the entire region with the new awakening of intellectual prowess and coming Islamic Reformation which is beginning right now. Their hopes of control over their resources, a name for themselves, and an end to fundamentalist radical Islamic persecution will fade away and they will be the dominant culture. They would be wise to muster whatever assets are needed, magically go find Osama bin Laden and turn him over to the world court thus avoiding a coming war in the tribal area.

And, how come they sound more like American cowboys than foreigners? Darn it, if we are going to start another little war, can’t we start it with some body that doesn’t live like my great, grandfather? The old Pashtun nationalist non-violent Kahn Abdul Gaffari Kahn 1930′s photo, even looks like grandpa!

Setting aside the Pashtun mostly pray to the same God I do, grandpa did, and great grandpa too, how on earth did they adopt the same code as the old cowboy code of the west?

According to “lawless frontier” musical score, the first impressions I hear is Pashtun love rifles, chewing green tobacco, and appreciate a good sense of humor. So what’s not to like? I can’t go to war on that.

If I fell out of the sky and landed in a group of people like that, I’d get along just fine, especially if I were being chased by the law. What they call Nanawateh we call asylum. Nanawateh is extended even to an enemy, just like the Cowboy Code of the Old West. Except if you are granted asylum (called Lokhay Warkawal) by the Pashtun elders as a group you’re in like Flynn! They protect you even if it means forfeiting their own lives. Man that is lawless. Imagine a code of living where a principal was so honored, that it exceeded my duty to the state. Hmmm. Now that is lawless. Isn’t it?

Better to just seek hospitality, then they’ll treat you like a king, which makes me want to open a 5-Star hotel somewhere in the snowy peaks along the boarder if I can find a few acres for a ski-lift not planted in opium poppies, viewed on Google Earth satellite, not that anyone is actually checking the carefully cultivated fields above 6,000 feet along the borders. I would feel right at home there, not unlike parts of Tennessee or California.

Look at the forces arrayed here. My little fantasy war is going to happen.

The Democrats need to show they can be trusted with national defense again, be it Hillary or Obama. And McCain says fight to win.

The second verse of the song is still being written: Floating the contingency balloon. Up, up, and awa-a-a-ay, in my beautiful ball-o-o-o-on….

Obama or Hillary, or McCain get sworn in January 20, 2009. By mid June, whoever is President is going to make a push into the boarder regions the so-called “lawless frontier tribal zones” and “on good intelligence,” unless of course my leader does it first before June 20th. The operation will be Pakistan’s (well okay we’ll give them a few billion). It will be a fast coordinated air-ground attack with airborne US intelligence and lots of surrounding US air cover as a safety check to insure the operation stays within operational parameters. Pakistani’s will not go into Afghanistan and vice a versa. Meantime the Pakistan Navy will be backed up (some would say surrounded and outgunned) by the US Navy to keep a lid on the operation seeing to it they don’t launch an attack on India by Pakistan Islamic fundamentalist-leaning ground forces. We’ll hold India’s hand throughout the entire episode and offer security where needed.

Up, up and awa-a-a-ay in my beautiful …. This thing’s going to happen regardless of who wins.

You can’t deny the poetic justice in someone with a Muslim name (Obama) catching a renegade terrorist (Osama). Can you imagine the songs that we could write about that? To the tune of “Froggy went a courting.”

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh
Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh
Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, he hunt Osama on the Mount
Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, un-huh. …..

The best time to wage this little war would be during the Chinese Olympics. China would likely remain quiet with their hands temporarily full with the Olympics.

So my fantasy, glorious, contingency war needs to be brief, violent, and force the Pashtun jirga to rethink their long term cultural interests. It needs to end with Osama in a holding tank, brought up on charges in the world court.

If it fails? Well what do you expect from the lawless tribal frontier area in Pakistan with questionable army allegiance? Corruption is everywhere.

I’d still like to open a 5-star hotel with some good ski-runs. You don’t suppose the opium production their so good at, has anything to do with the foolishness of some of our drug laws? Nah.

Victor Davis Hanson says you have to look at war with a long term perspective in order to understand its meaning. Long term is real long term. It may well turn out that while many say Bush’s legacy must be a failure, history may have a completely different take on things, long after both you and I and our great grand children have come and gone. It may turn out, that doomed legacy of a Bush Presidency we hear so often this campaign-cycle ends up being written 1000 years from now as the President who started Islamic Reformation (* See Footnote) and brought freedoms that enabled thinking people to ask questions about religious practices that eventually changed the world and started the east and the west talking again.

The Ritz, I like that franchise, a 5-star Ritz, 18-hole world class golf course, mini-conference center with A Pashtun bag-piper paying my old favorite, “The Ass in the Graveyard” with double malt scotch, in the bracing night air.

Respectfully,
Warbucks

Footnote: Reformation: “Christianity has the advantage of having been able to interpret its religious texts in their historical context, thus arriving at the distinction between what belongs to the bedrock of faith and what is related to culture: a distinction that Muslims have difficulty making.” … This was a topic of discussion in Muslim and Christian dialogue in Brussels, April 17, 2008. And from Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the US in April 15-21, while visiting a synagogue in New York, with about 200 representatives of other religions, including Islam, to the Muslims the Pope said that interreligious dialogue “aims at something more than a consensus for advancing peace.” The greater objective of dialogue is “to discover the truth” and keep the deepest and most essential questions awake in the hearts of all men. “Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue…. Dear friends, in our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity….. The higher goal of interreligious dialogue requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenants.”

Posted by Warbucks | Report as abusive

Unfortunately the western media and politicians are too Paki-apologists, which has partly resulted in the Pakistan we have at our hands. But West, with the UK at the head, is desperately beating the dead horse to get up and run. The dead horse is Pakistan.

When Pakistan tried to acquire nuclear weapons, the U.S. and the West chose to look the “other” way. Those weapons are now one of the biggest threat to the world security.

Whenever the military wished to kick out an elected civilian regime and imposed a dictatorship, West would fine a suitable explaination for that too, through the 60 years of bloody Pakistani history.

You can never write positive about a place which is unnatural and artificial from the birth.

The best thing for the Pakistanis and the world would be to dissolve Pakistan, peacefully if that is possible, and let ethnic and religious harmony pervail all over the subcontinent and the world.
Pakistan is the main source of her own problems.

Posted by Kabura | Report as abusive

Until India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh reconcile themselves to the existence of the Pakistani state, There can never be peace.

India denys Pakistan’s right to exist, How can one make peace with someone who’s sole intention and aspiration in life is your destruction?

Anyone that questions the right of Pakistan to exist is nothing short of a Class A war criminal

Posted by Dr Idris Shah Ebrahimi | Report as abusive

@ Kabura
First of all I would like to thank the author Myra MacDonald, for writing something positive about the country.

I am an international student, and being away from my country for a while, I have realized the importance of it. I no longer take it for granted and realize the importance of Pakistan. It is a homeland for the Muslims of the sub-continent and other indigenous minorities. My family migrated to Pakistan back in 1947 from Ambala, India and settled in Karachi. I often wonder what my life would be like if my grandparents did not migrate to Pakistan. I certainly believe that what Mr. Kabura is saying is totally absurd the need for Pakistan was a dire need at the time of independence from the British and now.
Today majority of the Muslims, in India are in the lower-class, they do not enjoy the benefits of a “rising and shining India”. Even though India portrays to be a secular state it is still very discriminatory towards its minorities. It is said that every fourth person you see in US is an Indian, but you hardly find an Indian Muslim. I say that with authority as I have been travelling around here in US, from seminars to conferences to concerts (Indian /Pakistani singers) and have barely come across an Indian Muslim.
The Muslims in India are suppressed, and are not given a chance to rise. In order to prove what I’m saying, I would like you to read a BBC article which was published last year:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/63 41125.stm
“Growth push for Muslims in India” Sunil Raman BBC News, Delhi

Coming up to the next point, you said “the western media and politicians are too Paki-apologists”. By apologist you mean someone who argues in defense or justification of something, such as a doctrine, policy, or institution. How can you even say that without even having any proof, other than this article by Myra Mac-Donald. I follow a bunch of website every night in order to look for news from back home, and hardly ever come up with any which does not defame Pakistan in one way or another.
I am aware of the fact that my country has issues; just like any other country but stating that it does not has the right to be there is an opinion of an extremist/fundamentalist/communist.

I would have gone into much more detail but time is rather more precious.
P.S. Think before you BS

Posted by Anas Irfan | Report as abusive

I actually believe that the West has in the past been too positive about Pakistan. As a cold war ally, Pakistan has been given much too much latitude by the US and the UK. The West turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kashmir and its bombings on Indian soil. The West, including Canada, even turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s role in the Air India bombing of 1985, which was a collaboration between the Pakistani government and Sikh terrorists.

Now that Pakistan and Pakistanis have bitten the hand that feeds them, the West has finally realized what a monster Pakistan really is.

-TDD

Posted by teresa | Report as abusive

I think the media has actually been quite positive about Pakistan, particularly as it is considered an ally of the West. In addition, Westerners generally have a prejudice against India and Hindus, which has greatly helped build a positive attitude towards Pakistan. By providing more constructive criticism of Pakistan, the West can actually help Pakistan to become a progressive and prosperous country and prevent if from becoming a failed state.

Posted by david | Report as abusive

I think criticism should be given when and where it is deserved, however it should not be based on ignorance or prejudice. This is not to say that the media is too negative about Pakistan. I think in general it has been quite balanced. However, in some cases, the media does not provide enough background to provide perspective. For example, recently in Canada, numerous Canadians of Pakistani origin were detained for plotting to kill the prime minister and blow up various federal buildings and airlines. The media devoted much time to the story, perhaps giving Canadians the impression that most Pakistanis and Muslims support terrorism. However, the media did not mention that, to date, no one has been killed by Pakistani or Muslim terrorists in Canada. The only major terrorist act in Canada was carried out by Sikh terrorists who blew up an Air India flight in the mid 80′s, killing 329 people.

Posted by barry kumar | Report as abusive

Wow!! Some of the comments on here are enough to make you vomit. Ethnic cleansing in Azad Kashmir? You must be having a laugh. The largest population of Pakistanis in the UK are Mirpuris from Azad Kashmir. If there was any agenda against Kashmir in Pakistan – this Kashmiri ex-pat population would certainly make a noise about it. But they don’t – because there is nothing to make a noise about.

It seems that the world media always portrays India as if the sun shines out of its collective arse – but Pakistan is the exact opposite. They say our nukes are a threat to world security. Which they are – if you threaten us.

I always wondered if there was a need for a homeland for Muslims in the subcontinent. Minorities in Pakistan are guaranteed representation and protection by our constitution. In India, the Babari mosque is burnt to the ground but no one is calling the Hindus extreamists. But now I’m convinced of it, the west hates Islam and Muslims No point in denying it. We got a raw deal in the Radcliffe awards and are still getting stick from the self styled bastion of truth, justice and peace that is the western media.

Pakistan, its people and its nukes are here to stay. So kindly get off our case and sort out your own problems before preaching to us.

Posted by S. Ahmed | Report as abusive

There are many internal rifts in Pakistan’s social and cultural fabric. People are divided along sectarian, economic, tribal, caste and political lines. One way to reduce these divisions is to promote inter-marriage. There is too much inbreeding in Pakistan–too many first cousin marriages. It is also not good for the physical well-being of Pakistanis, as inbreeding leads to increased genetic defects and psychological problems. I think that the media should focus on this issue and provide constructive criticism to force the government to ban first cousin marriages. Doing so would make Pakistani society less divided and increase communication and collaboration between Pakistanis of various hues.

Posted by barry kumar | Report as abusive

Great article on a topic the media has been otherwise shy on!

The reactions to this article, however, I’m not such a fan of. Especially the people who I infer from their references, p.o.v., and names, are Indian/Bangladeshi’s commenting on Pakistan’s obvious mistakes and failures, and citing those as reasons to strip it off it’s nationhood.

Well, Pakistan is here to stay. And the worry over the nukes is NOT justification to disrespect a nation’s sovereignty. Almost every nation has dark spots on it’s history that date back to failures made during or shortly after Independence, and Pakistan, India, the United States, and perhaps every country on earth have made their own mistakes in this time. Anyway, the military would not let the nukes fall into the wrong hands. True, they do not happily kill innocent muslims when they are ordered to by their American bosses, but that does not mean they are not a loyal army. The Pakistani Army is fiercly patriotic, and would not let the country fall into the hands of the Taliban, hell, they can hardly bare to watch the country in the hands of some of the more inept politcians!

The reality is that Pakistan and India do not have very different living standards, yet Pakistan is portrayed as a war torn desert nation in the west, and I say this from my entire life’s experience of living abroad. People have even advised me not to return back, on the basis of safety, which is ridiculous because more people die in gang related violence in the United States than they do from terrorist in an average year in Pakistan.

Also, the increased instability and violence in Pakistan seems to happen every time the West needs a favor, like they do now. So, yes, Pakistan is being portrayed unfairly. We take the kills for a war at the urging of Washington and London, and what do we get? The shame of being “the most dangerous nation on earth” according to the western media (via the ‘prestigious’ magazine, the Economist).

Well, FYI, if Pakistan was dissolved, it could not happen peacefully, because we Pakistani people feel just as strongly about our right to live a peaceful, prosperous, independant life as any Indian or Bangladeshi. So, yes, Pakistan has major issues, but so does the U.S., so does India, so does Bangladesh. The point is that ours are under the international spotlight, and that other nation’s feel that they have the power to burn that spotlight into the back of our necks. Well, I suggest that people give Pakistan a little breathing room, and keep negative opinions to themself, especially if they dwell on the past, not least because these comments show the narrow point of view that foreigners ultimately have to a country they never care to visit.

So, come to Pakistan, live here for a while, get to know the people, and then if you still believe that it deserves it’s reputation, I’ll listen. But on behalf of myself and the vast majority of the Pakistani population who I know agress with me, we don’t care what you think. Our problems are our own, just as India and Bangladesh’s are theirs. I believe in peace with our neighbors, and I believe in a dialogue about the past, but these have to happen at appropriate times. Trying to blacken the reputation of one of this earth’s largest and most beautiful countries and it’s inhabitants because of historical biases is just silly, and is counter-productive.

I live in Pakistan, it’s beautiful, and there’s a very a comfortable life if you are educated enough to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in this emerging market. Yes, there are big problems that need to be dealt with swiftly. But they are our problems, and I strongly believe that they will be solved by those who look beyond the Subcontinent’s mental blocks on the past, and into the inevitably succesful future of both Pakistan and it’s neighbors. Also, what I’ve heard from my family’s many western guests who have actually been to both Pakistan and India is always that they were shocked to see how prosperous so many Pakistanis are, and how desolate the situation in India is for so many more people. We certainly also share the same poverty problem as India, yet we face an unfair reputation as a country with no future due to the misguidance of not only foreign governments, but the media in many of the Western countries. I see the future of Pakistan, and it may not be a smooth road, but if we are allowed to exist and govern ourselves it is no doubt a bright future.

It’s about time that South Asian politicians listened to the better breed of South Asian businessmen, and learn that creating success in the present and future is much more vital to world and national security than the failures and disagreements of the past. So, try and support the Pakistani democracy, instead of condemning it based on issues which may be real or imagined.

Sorry for the long speech, sincerely, a Pakistani repatriate.

Posted by Usman | Report as abusive

Media revolution…..

Media is the predictive way of understanding the thought process of man kind. We aspire to make logic of consumer needs hence we find ways of promoting them through media. A diverse, international and focused audience is a step nearer to most media planners and strategists.

The repudiation of various messaging channels modified with world change in consumer and buyer behavior. Even during recession of the East or West, most well-researched advertising campaigns conquered the economic impact on media in that they were prepared for the worse.

When leaders of the world change so does the worlds marketing process….the worlds marketing minds and the growing need of cunsumers.

Posted by Claudelle Naidoo | Report as abusive