On a recent trip to Deosai Plain in Skardu, my British friend, Franklin Gin and I, briefly stopped over at Sadpara lake, Skardu. We stepped out of the car, took a look at the lake and jokingly said to each other, ‘it’s a dam and it’s a lake. Not much to see. Let’s go’. As we were walking away a Geo News correspondent accosted us, and wanted to get my friend’s impressions about the place for their Independence Day transmissions. The dialogue took place as follows: Geo News: What do you think of this place? Franklin: Well, it is a dam that has created… Geo News: No, no, just say it’s beautiful. Franklin: OK. It is beautiful. Geo News: Thank you very much. The above exchange is representative of how the middle class oriented information brokers want to produce Pakistan — foreigners agree that the lakes of Northern Pakistan are beautiful, as are the mountains and its fair skinned people. There is little room for contemplation on how and why the lake is there, and what might be its history or its economic or environmental costs and benefits. In every officially sanctioned and media promoted image of Pakistan, Northern Pakistan always takes a prominent place, as do a smattering of sufi shrines down country, and a few exotic looking shots of camels and colourful dresses of the denizens of Cholistan. Pakistan is increasingly being produced, and in fact, almost has to be produced in the international visual grammar of globalised depoliticised, and somewhat racialised and orientalised esthetics. Millions of visuals, and stories they represent, across the vast human and natural landscape of Pakistan are occluded by the a few trite images, sanctioned and promoted by the popular media and the state. Those images promote a unidimensional view of the country: of breathtaking, mostly mountainous landscapes, sufi shrines, colourful trucks, and odd desert forts here and there. Pakistan is increasingly being produced and, in fact, it has to be produced in an international visual grammar of globalised, depoliticised, and somewhat, racialised and orientalised esthetics The fact that in dominant Pakistani imaginary, Sadpara is beautiful and Manchar is not, Lahore fort is iconic and Ranikot fort is not, Kanghi palm is ornamental and date palms of Khairpur are just desi khajoor, is consonant with the stories that Pakistanis tell about themselves, and about each other. A housing society in Lahore, for example, advertises itself as a place where it is ‘almost like living abroad’ — thank God not Pakistan. Pashtuns are beautiful and brave, other Pakistanis by implication less so. Baloch are quite brave too, but a little shaky in their loyalty to Pakistan. Sindhis have a rich culture, but have too many Hindus living amongst them — and they are dark. Kashmiris are beautiful too, but a little cowardly. Baltis and Gilgitis — they are Agha Khanis and make good waiters. Punjabis? They are, ahem, just Pakistanis, though in the view of others overbearingly imperious, devious and sadly, dark skinned. All of these stories and images are not separate from the challenges of deepest injustices in Pakistani society along ethnic, gender and class lines. The disappearances of the Baloch youth in Balochistan, to the general indifference of the Pakistani society, is one such manifestation, as is the exclusion of poor Bengalis, Pashtuns (for being suspected Afghans or Talibans), Hindus, Christians, women and trans-sexuals to name a few, from the Pakistani polity. The seventieth Independence Day celebrations were a manifestation of the narrow bandwidth being imposed upon the national discourse. Watching the glorification of the armed forces, you would be forgiven to think that Pakistan was created by the armed forces, and not by a Gujarati lawyer politician. Unless the Pakistani polity is able to expand the space for alternate stories told through words, images and action, it is bound to be rent asunder by the forces of the Islamist ‘ideology of Pakistan’ brigade, militarist national interest, xenophobic, but pathetic posturing of the identity politics constituency, and the neo-liberal globalist fantasies of the, so called liberals, thrown in there for good measure. Is Sadpara lake beautiful? It depends. Is Bahria town beautiful? Is a petrol station beautiful? They can be beautiful, if you want to live in Bahria Town, or are low on petrol. Every square inch of this planet is beautiful. It is us humans who have the singular capacity to turn this beautiful planet ugly, just as we also have the capacity to create somethings, well—sublime. To find the beauty in the utter physical and human diversity of this world, we have to draw upon a wider lexicon than the global image making machine would allow. We also have to draw upon a wider trope of ideas than ossified ethic, religious, gender or national identity regimes would allow. We need to allow Franklin to talk about the dam, the lake and what Sadpara says to him. The writer is a reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography. He also publishes and teaches on critical geographies of violence and terror Published in Daily Times, August 24th 2017.