These days just about everyone in California knows Pakistan, well at least in Southern California where I’ve lived for the past 13 years. When I tell people I’m from Pakistan I often hear responses like, “Pakistan? Isn’t that where Bin Laden is hiding? I hope your family is safe!” Or “Pakistan? Oh that’s where the flood happened isn’t it. Is your family safe?” And my personal favourite as of late, “Pakistan? Wasn’t there something about a gambling scandal with the cricket team?”

Wait this is the United States of Baseball, err … America. Why do people here even know what cricket is, let alone the scandal our team is mired in? (ICC you can thank us for the free publicity in this market, which you so desperately want to break in to).

It wasn’t always like this though. Back in the good old days when I’d tell people I was from the Land of the Pure, the exchange would typically go something like this:

Them: “I’m sorry, where did you say you were from again?” Me: “Pakistan.” Them: “Oh, Pakistan … umm … where is that again?” Me (exasperated): “It’s right next to India …” Them: “Oh India (face lights up)! How cool!” Me (resigned tone): “Yes, how cool…” (Take it as a compliment, dear neighbors)

Those were simpler times. Back when hardly anyone in California knew or cared much about Pakistan. It’s sad that in my 13 years of living here, the best impression most people have had of Pakistan was that of its relative obscurity. Does anyone care that we have some of the tallest mountains on earth, or that we’re home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world?

In fact we’re one of the few countries in this world to actually be led by a woman, twice. But no one seems to care. Instead, Americans get bombarded with images of mullahs cheering in the streets on 9/11, yelling death to America or some other similar anti-western rally. As a result, many Americans have started questioning why their tax dollars (in the form of foreign aid) are going to a country that “harbours terrorists and hates America”.

It’s clear that we have an image problem and a severe one at that. While our neighbors to the east have perfected the art of exporting their culture, we Pakistanis keep getting hampered by the likes of Fasial Shazad and our now-world-famous cricket team. But sadly, the image is not the only problem – where one can boast about plenty of things in Pakistan, such as the geography or culture, it needs to be acknowledged that like dozens of other countries problems do exist here and as a result of those, the image of the country has been tarnished. The sooner the damage is fixed, the sooner the perceptions are likely to change.

Essentially, Pakistan needs a major image over haul. There is a lot of good in our country, which I hope will someday be reflected in the image that we present to the rest of the world. And then, when I tell people in California I’m from Pakistan, maybe they’ll respond with a genuine ‘COOL!’ as opposed to blank stares and negative perceptions.

The views expressed in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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