THE SOFT IMAGE OF PAKISTAN
It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s image abroad has been tarnished so badly that the world associates it only with terrorism and extremism. Many people think of our society only as intolerant and regressive. However much we plead that the vast majority of Pakistan is moderate and that only a fringe element is extremist-and that our national fabric has been damaged by the turbulence to our west in Afghanistan and to our east in Kashmir, not by anything inherent within our borders and society-the message does not get across. I have therefore tried to project a truer image of Pakistan, which I call a soft image, through the promotion of tourism, sports, and culture.
We have arguably the best and certainly some of the highest mountains in the world, as well as a virgin coastline with beautiful beaches stretching all along our south, mighty rivers and stark deserts, dense forests, and historic religious sites for Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. We have many other historic monuments and excavation sites and museums, going back to ancient times. Yet we have hardly any tourism. at a pity! Even before 9/11 we failed to market ourselves effectively, and we failed to develop the infrastructure needed to facilitate tourism. Now, of course, our grim reputation for extremism and the many travel advisories against us hinder tourism.
I have been conscious of our strengths and weaknesses. We have improved our telephone networks and completed a beautiful coastal highway stretching from Karachi in the east to the newly built Gwadar Port in the west. This links all the coastal towns and numerous pictur‑
esque sites along the route. We have also linked all four major valleys in our mountainous northern areas-Chitral, Kaghan, Gilgit-Hunza, and Skardu-laterally with one another. This allows tourists traveling by road to switch from one to the other without having to travel back to and from main airports. We are now trying to publicize our potential to attract local and foreign tourists. I am glad to see a gradual increase in local interest in tourism. This wi11 encourage other infrastructure facilities, particularly hotels and motels, to spring up and in turn attract a greater number of foreign tourists.
I have been a sportsman of a kind. I call myself a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. Pakistan has been a reasonably good sporting country at various points in its history, and we have been world-class in cricket, hockey, and squash, and even bridge and amateur billiards and snooker. Unquestionably the best bridge player in the world, Zia Mahmood, is from Pakistan. Hashim an, Jahangir Khan, and Jansher Khan are the best squash players the world has ever known, with Jahangir the best of the three. If Hollywood only knew his story of tragedy, grit, and determination, it would make another movie like Chariots of Fire. Many of those who know him consider him the best athlete who ever lived. We compete at a high level in Asian athletics. Sports can provide a recreation that relieves stressful societal pressures. But in 1999, our sports achievements were at a low ebb. I therefore launched a campaign to improve the situation.
The first thing we had to do was reorganize all the sports bodies, which had become hotbeds of fraud and cronyism. Accordingly, we restructured all the sports federations, introducing merit and efficiency into them. We then strategized and helped to encourage an interesting, participatory, and competitive sporting system for the country, at three levels: interschool and intercollege competitions, the regional and district level, and corporation-level competitions in the public and private sectors. We are also trying to encourage the private sector to sponsor events and sports teams. This, we hope, wi11 attract national talent, expose people to competitive sports, and improve our overall national sporting standards while providing much-needed recreational activity to the entertainment-starved population of Pakistan.
Few people in the world know that Pakistan has a rich, diverse cultural heritage. We have the nearly prehistoric excavations at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, the Mehrgarh civilizations, Alexander the Great, and the British raj. Both Alexander and Britain left indelible footprints in our land. The people of the Kalash tribe in the remote Kalash valley of Chitral are said to be descendants of Alexander’s army, which turned back from here. Our landscape is replete with monuments of the Mughal era, shrines of Muslim Sufi mystics, and remnants of the British colonial era. The revered religious sites of Buddhism (in Taxila, Swabi, and Swat), of Hinduism (in Katas Raj), and of Sikhism (in Hassanabdal and Nankana Sahib) add color to our heritage. When you walk in our land, you walk alongside history Every stone, every path and byway, every nook and cranny, and every peak of our mighty Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush mountains will have a story to tell.
The four provinces of Pakistan have rich and distinct cultures. Music, dance, and art have flourished in our land for millennia. Ironically, all this has remained the best-kept secret of Pakistan. Worse, the forces of religious extremism and obscurantism reject this cultural activity as being un-Islamic. No previous government had the courage to tell them that they were wrong.
All this needed a drastic change. We had to bring normality and cultural harmony back into our national fabric. I started by revitalizing Pakistan’s heritage. I asked the army to beautify the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum in Karachi and make it a fitting tribute to the father of the nation. Today, people by the thousands throng to admire the magnificence of its surroundings. We also erected an impressive national monument at Islamabad, dedicated to the people of Pakistan. It features an underground museum focusing on the Pakistan movement-our struggle for winning our homeland. An imposing monument at Walton, Lahore, which we call Bab-e-Pakistan (“Gateway to Pakistan”), is under construction at the exact site where the father of the nation first addressed over 100,000 refugees fleeing from India. In addition to these monuments, I launched an ambitious plan to create a National Heritage Museum in Islamabad, showing Pakistan’s regional culture and traditions. This project has since been completed by Uxi Mufti. He
is passionately involved in our art and culture and has done exemplary work on this project. The museum is now an attraction for many local and foreign visitors and dignitaries.
I also encouraged our performing arts, including music, theater, and dance. We opened a National Academy of the Performing Arts in Karachi, and I selected the renowned thespian Zia Mohyuddin to run it. We also opened a National Council of Arts with an art gallery in Islamabad. Both institutions are attracting a lot of young talent to the performing arts, particularly music. ,
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, many private television channels have opened since the liberalization of our media. We have to work hard to improve our image around the world, and we must proceed on all fronts simultaneously. We have to defeat terrorism and extremism, but at the same time we must also present a culturally rich, inviting, and economically vibrant alternative in its place. The media need to gear up to sell Pakistan abroad.