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Pakistan’s image problem

In the last two years, my luck/work has taken me to different parts of the country to attend International/National conferences involving Pakistani Youth. In most cases, some of the guests speakers were either Foreigners or Pakistanis who had spent a considerable time abroad. In all those conferences and sessions, I heard one question that was repeated ad nauseam by the audience. They wanted to ask, “Why is Pakistan portrayed “negatively” in the world?” or “Why is Pakistan’s image tarnished abroad?”. I could understand the sense of emotional patriotism on part of the questioners and the difficulty with which the guest speakers often tackled these recurring questions.

Let me put it straight and clear, and in no uncertain terms. Something is terribly wrong with Pakistan, by most standards. It is not the “foreign media” or “Jewish Lobby” that is responsible of our “negative image”. No. That is not the case. The “image” is formed by what the reality is. To quote from Shakespeare’s drama “Hamlet”, Something is rotten in the state of Pakistan.

Our reality is dark, it’s bleak. It’s not something to be proud of. How could we rationally ask International media to “pick only the rare positive stories” emanating from Pakistan and ignore the bulk of negative news that are coming from Pakistan.

In modern times, health and education are considered parameters of defining the “development” of countries. Pakistan spends less than 2% of its annual budget on education and Health(Pakistan spent just 0.27% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health in 2011-12. We spent 1.7% of our GDP in 2013-14 on Education.).

The annual out-of-pocket spending on medical care in Pakistan, which comes to around 5 per cent of total household expenditures, is among the highest such spending in Asian and the Pacific region countries.  In Pakistan, the average expenditure on diabetes is around $24 (Rs2,360). This is lower than the figure in Afghanistan – about $33 or Rs3,230 – and India, where the expenditure is $55 (Rs5,390). Pakistan has the third highest number of maternal, fetal and child mortality deaths in the world. Public spending on health is at $9.31 per person, much less than the internationally recommended $60 per person. There are only three countries in this world where polio virus is still present; Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In 2011, Pakistan had 198 confirmed polio cases, the highest number of any nation in the world.The Polio Virus strain recently found in Syria is linked to the strain of Pakistani origin. India has asked Pakistani tourists from next year to get a polio vaccine before entering its territory. On our part, dozens of polio vaccinators have been killed in the last two years.

In the field of education, there are only 13 countries in the world with a lower adult literacy rate than Pakistan, according to data compiled by the United Nations. At this level, Pakistan ranks 177th globally in terms of public spending on Education, according to the Human Development Report 2013 issued by UNDP. Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of children out of school, reaching 5.1 million in 2010. Despite all these tragic figures, we still shunned our only Nobel Prize Winner  out of the official narrative, just because of a minor religious issue. Despite poor education statistics, we forced the only voice for female education in the country,coming from a 16 year old girl, to flee for her life.

Comparing the growth figures with India and Bangladesh in the last 20 years, Pakistan scores dismally on accounts of change in income per person, life expectancy at birth, Infant mortality rate, Infant immunization rate, female literacy rate and number of underweight children.

Lets talk about law and order in the country.Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, is the most dangerous mega-city in the world with a homicide rate of 12.3 per 100,000 residents, almost 25% higher than ANY other major city(In 2011, 1723 people were killed in Karachi. In comparison, 202 people were killed during the same time in Mumbai).

Pick out any news related to terrorism in the last 10 years and one or the other connection to Pakistan
can be easily found. Al-Qaeda was formed in Pakistan, the 1993 World Trade center bomber was caught in Pakistan, the chief architect involved in 9/11 attacks was caught in Pakistan, Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Pakistan, a Pakistani tried to bomb New York’s Times Square, British-Pakistanis had gotten training in Pakistan before attacking London’s Tube stations  and so on and so forth. Even in the recent Syrian Conflict, Pakistani fighters have been involved. We have become the most successful exporters of terrorism(and Polio?) and the ideology of hatred to the world and we except them to love back in return?
Even in Pakistan, terrorism has taken a heavy toll. Almost 3000 innocent people were killed this year due to terrorist activities.

We are probably the only country left in the world that still validates killing by stoning. Is it a reason to be proud of? How can this help in “cleaning” our image? Do we expect the rest of the world to allow us all kinds of brutality in our neighborhood and still adopt us as darlings? It doesn’t surprise me that a Pakistani passport is considered among the worst for International travelling. Even our expatriate population is corrupt to the core. A brief look at Pakistani society is necessary to understand its problems. I’ll only mention two news items that are from last month.

In Toba Tek Singh, a teenage girl was buried alive after being raped and she dug her way out of the mud covering her.  In Chichawatni, a gang started stabbing women “for leaving their houses after sunset”.

Should we just hide these stories from International media and pretend that nothing is wrong with our society and our country? I admit that I am being overly critical of the situation without providing any causes or solutions for the mess that we find ourselves in. There are different causation for different issues and one of the primary issues is our history. Pakistan, as a post-colonial state, is still to grow out of the colonial hangover. The relationship of the state with its denizens is colonial in nature and new mechanisms have not been adapted in the last six decades to make things any better. In spite of this issue, there are multiple other post-colonial states doing much better than us. SriLanka, India and Bangladesh have almost similar history as us and apparently they don’t possess any magic wands that solved their post-colonial difficulties. All these countries are progressing rapidly and we are stuck in the quagmire.

To all my young friends with questions about Pakistan’s image problem, I want to quote Shakespeare once again;
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

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