TO say that successive governments — including the current setup — have squandered several opportunities to project a positive image of Pakistan would be an understatement. For instance, a report published in this paper says that 14 Pakistan chairs in various international universities have been vacant for six to 10 years. These universities are located in Germany, Egypt, Turkey, China and the UK where scholars from here would have dealt with subjects pertaining to history, the Urdu language, and the political and social sciences. Five Pakistani scholars were nominated by this government after scrutiny, but their appointments have hung in the balance. In fact, one of the best ways for scholarly minds in Pakistan to share their analyses would have been through academic ambassadorship. The scholars would also have been able to bring home new ideas to enrich local learning. The matter does not seem to concern the government which has more often than not displayed a lackadaisical and sometimes suspicious approach towards intellectual pursuits. This can only reinforce shallow, international impressions of Pakistan as a terrorism-hit, oppressive country. By comparison, India has around 300 academic chairs in a number of foreign universities and these positions are used to promote local and international academic and people-to-people interactions.
It is not as if the government does not realise the importance of improving international perceptions; after all, it is trying to dispel the negative image of the country by discussing the potential of tourism in Pakistan and inviting vloggers to come and record their impressions. It can do the same in other areas, especially if opportunities are available, for instance, by sending scholars abroad. Had these university chairs been filled by now, it would have helped the world see the country through myriad lenses ie history, culture, politics etc and not just through the prism of militancy and instability. The government should not be reluctant to send scholars, perhaps fearing that certain academic viewpoints may not echo its own.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2020