FOURTEEN telephone calls and 15 meetings: this is part of the six months of activity an American lobbying firm did for Pakistan. The firm is paid $75,000 a month to advance Pakistan’s cause and stem the downhill slide of its image. As a report by our diplomatic correspondent points out, despite the nearly one million dollars given annually to the firm, Pakistan’s image has earned it few admirers. There is a long list of reasons why the American public has developed the kind of view it has about this country. Islamabad’s role in the war on terror, the post-Salala confrontation and the army’s covert relationship with the Haqqani militia have merely contributed to an image that has been negative for quite some time because of Pakistan’s domestic scene bordering on anarchy. It is not a question of an incident here and there; it is decades of political chaos and extremist violence which have given Pakistan the stamp of an abnormal country.
A country’s image is not created overnight, nor can lobbyists succeed in their job when the news emanating from the country shows perpetual chaos, a constant perversion of constitutional and legal processes, sectarian violence, unabashed persecution of women and minorities, massive financial scams, a horrendous level of xenophobic violence that deters foreign tourists and investment, the purported misuse and waste of foreign aid, and above all, a corrupt elite that is perceived to be indifferent to national interests. In such a scenario, lobbyists can do little to earn their keep. A country’s image is built at home, not abroad, for it stems from the kind of message a nation gives to the world by collective behaviour and by its commitment to principles universally shared. The lobbying firm may win over a couple of congressmen or journalists willing to listen, but this will be a poor substitute for what the people of Pakistan themselves and their leaders can and should do to reverse the image. A stable, democratic and peaceful Pakistan will in itself constitute an image that would hardly need lobbying.