CPSD - Commentary

Perception Management: The Pakistan Story

In the age of data wars and behavioural control through media influence, the greatest battle is the one which lies within the minds of the people. The Pakistani state is not well trained in art of data warfare, instead this methodology is merely used for smear campaigns against dissident elements within the state. There is a genuine need for a focused data driven campaign to improve Pakistan’s image internationally. The War on Terror’s propaganda narratives classified Pakistan with other war-torn countries with the implication that Pakistan too needed to be on a ‘watch list.’ Pakistan’s geo strategic location, which shares the Durand Line with Afghanistan makes it vulnerable to foreign infiltration and terrorist attacks. However, in recent years coordinated security operations under the National Action Plan have resulted in a noticeable decrease in terrorism. The Pakistani military has conducted surgical operations in Pakistan’s northwest frontier province providing temporary respite from routine terrorist attacks. This relief has contributed to an improvement in the social and political environment with an upward increase in economic stability indicators.

Perception management is therefore the need of the day. An improved perception will invite foreign investment in Pakistan, boost the tourism industry and will stabilize our foreign reserves. It is key at this stage to prevent a continual devaluation of the Pakistani rupee. A rigorous public relations campaign is needed at this point to project positivity nationally and globally to effectively counter a concerted smear campaign against the country Pakistan need not look further than its own neighbor India. Though steeped in far-right ideology, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has elevated India’s image with the ‘Rising India’ rhetoric. He has successfully overhauled India’s international alliances, with the South Asian country receiving invitations from influential world leaders across the spectrum. Pakistan on the other hand seems to be entering a period of isolation, as it stays abandoned in the international arena without substantial support from its allies.

To foster a positive image of Pakistan, there needs to be a comprehensive system in place to promote counter narratives for perception management. CPSD recommends that all forms of media be engaged across the board in addition to news outlets. Television and film in particular, are lucrative PR tools to boost popularity. The government should dedicate a substantial financial budget towards wielding its soft power in the international arena. Soft power is an extremely useful tool in international relations and is directly connected to what is known as ‘winning hearts and minds.’ There should be greater cultural exchange with our allies and a concerted effort must be made to initiate bilateral educational partnerships.

Pakistan’s domestic and security scenario has visibly improved, yet its reputation internationally appears misconstrued. Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts need to be structurally grounded to eventually jumpstart data driven campaigns for perception management. If Pakistan regresses in the new game of soft power politics, it will be economically and politically disadvantaged. Therefore, there is a dire need to invest in perception management.