Pakistan’s bloodstained face

Though we claim we have won the war against terrorism, we still hold the title of a terrorist state

The Japanese have an old saying about human complexities. They believe every individual has three faces; one they show the world, a second for family and friends, and the third that no one ever sees. But this instinctive mechanism is not only found amongst people. Nations also possess faces. And each nation’s first face is their trump card.

The first face emerges over time through the stories a nation chooses to tell the world about itself. It determines how one nation is understood by another. Consequently, this face must be carefully constructed, for nation building is an active effort- not a by-product of democracy. But Pakistan’s first face is an ugly one; behold our land of blasts and blood. As a nation, we are still misrepresenting our realities to the world and thus failing to sustain positive national narratives. Before the world, Pakistan continues to be both dangerous and deceitful.

Though we claim we have won the war against terrorism, we still hold the title of a terrorist state. Recently, the international anti-terror watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), demanded Pakistan present a new action plan by June 8, or be placed on the blacklist. If this happens, we will be recognised globally as a country which has failed to prevent terror financing. Recently, three-time former Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif said “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?” Headlines in Indian Newspapers read: Ousted Prime Minister admits Pakistan’s involvement in Mumbai attacks? Such is the first face of Pakistan. And it has changed very little over time.

More than seven years have passed since the Osama-Abbottabad fiasco. Buildings have been erected, couples have married, graduates have found jobs; life has moved on. But the world never stopped pointing at Pakistan. Every citizen is scrutinized as a possible militant. A Pakistani passport is the fourth worst in the world for international travel according to the Henley Passport Index 2018. The first three positions are held by Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria respectively. Yes, terrorist networks do exist and attacks still occur within our borders. But Pakistan has begun the road to recovering from the terror menace.

More than seven years have passed since the Osama-Abbottabad fiasco. Buildings have been erected, couples have married, graduates have found jobs; life has moved on. But the world never stopped pointing at Pakistan

Terrorism is not our national identity. It is a threat which also plagues other countries. Nigeria is ranked third on the Global Terrorism Index 2017, while Pakistan holds the fifth position. The Jihadist militant organization Boko Haram killed over 900 Nigerians in 2017 according to a report by BBC, while Pakistan lost 540 civilians the same year as per records held by the South Asian anti-terrorism portal. And yet, Pakistan is seen as the face of terrorism. Every few months we are told: do more! But if you start to dig your own grave, can you really blame death for coming early?

We ourselves are responsible for the way the world sees Pakistan. Every nation has its problems. We are not alone. 9/11 shook America and in turn, Americans shook the world.

Sustaining positive national narratives in the face of adversity is vital. Unless the images through which we are identified are actively changed, Pakistan will always remain a dangerous nation for the world. Now a journalist must do his job. News cannot be stopped and lies cannot be used to conceal bitter truths. The formula for top stories goes: the more shocking it is, the more it will sell. Although, I refuse to believe there are no positive attention-grabbing stories we can tell the world about Pakistan, the entire burden of nation-building cannot be placed on news channels and papers. Films and dramas have a much greater reach.

India’s Raazi is making ripples across the globe. It has crossed the hundred crore mark. Critics are speculating it will become 2018’s third highest grossing film in India. Raazi tells the true story of a heroic Kashmiri Muslim girl who marries a Pakistani military officer to spy for India during the 1971 war. As expected, Raazi has been banned in Pakistan. But if the trailer is anything to go by, Bollywood has done a fantastic job of making Indians proud of their nation and its citizens. And this patriotic Indian narrative has echoed through hundreds of cinemas to thousands of people across several continents.

There is also the recently released Parmanu: The story of Pokhran starring John Abraham. The film celebrates nuclear bomb tests carried out by the Indian Army in 1998, despite international pressure.  But where is our film on Kulbhushan Yadav and his capture? According to the South Asian anti-terrorism portal, 208 Pakistani security force personnel laid down their lives in 2017 alone to keep civilians safe. Where are their stories of sacrifice? When allegations of deceit are made against us in international circles, we immediately turn to China for help. Is this how we will convince the world that our people are also victims of terrorism?

Films are the easiest way for an outsider to access an unknown place. One step across Wagah border and the world sees a colorful country with the famous Taj Mahal, great food and people who love to dance. But we too have the Lahore Fort and mouth-watering food. One step back and the world sees faces covered in blood. Last year, the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation proudly announced that 1.75 million tourists visited Pakistan in 2017. According to the Indian Ministry of Tourism, 8.8 million tourists arrived in India during 2016. Despite our problems, Pakistan is a nation of immense cultural diversity and wonderful things to see. We only need to show the world our other side.

The writer has a master’s in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics. She tweets @mawish_m

Published in Daily Times, June 2nd 2018.