Objectivity, not a helping hand, is what Pakistan needs from the West

We Pakistanis do not need foreigners arguing our case to the International Court of the Media. We need to pull up our boots and transform ourselves

Share
Related Topics

Lately, I've been seeing an Internet meme doing the rounds on Facebook. It's the image of a TIME magazine cover about Pakistan: the tagline reads “Pakistan’s Dark Heart” and shows a dead body sprawled on a street. Andrew Marshall’s accompanying article calls Karachi, my hometown “desperate, chaotic, and ungovernable – and essential to global security”.

This melodramatic image is accompanied by a letter to the Editor written by Tony Lazaro, tagged “An Australian’s Rebuttal to Time Magazine’s Story on Karachi”. Mr. Lazaro relates how on a recent charitable trip to Pakistan, he saw the beautiful side of a much-maligned nation, and feels that the Western media must promote “something positive” about the country. “If we really care about global partnerships… I suggest we try and give Pakistan a helping hand… given a little help from the Western world, Pakistan can become a dominant economy. She doesn’t want aid and she doesn’t need money… I believe we have a fundamental obligation to assist.”


I appreciate the good spirit in which this letter has been written. I'm trying very hard to control my inner cynic, which whispers to me that this is an attempt to improve Pakistan's image in the eyes of the world, not a blatant attempt at self-promotion. I'll ignore Tony Lazaro's full contact details and link to his Web site, although I'll also resist the urge to click on it and see what business he represents. Tony's come to Pakistan, he's clearly loved what he's seen, and he wants Western media to adjust the bias when it comes to reporting about Pakistan. There's so much good here, why spend all your time focusing on the bad?

I've written before about how the image of bad Pakistan is needed to fit the global narrative. The Western world needs a villain, and these days Pakistan is it (thanks, Katheryn Bigelow). Western journalists who I know pitch “Pak positive” stories to their editors, and get shot down all the time because a good story isn't sexy enough. This is one of the perils of journalism, and it can be blamed squarely on the economics of selling newspapers. It's not about circulation; it's about selling readers' eyeballs to advertisers, whose money is what really powers any newspaper or magazine. This isn't going to change any time soon, either. Pakistan could undergo a magical metamorphosis and become a model nation and the editors will just turn to the next basketcase and hype it up beyond belief. 


There's a reason nations like Iran and North Korea and even China like to control information: whoever controls the information holds all the power. There's also a reason nations like India hire public relations organizations, plan media campaigns, market themselves so aggressively. In our fickle world, image is king. And Pakistan almost always turns out to be the court jester. 


Take a look at some of the news in the last couple of days: Pakistani-Canadian cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri receives dressing down in front of Supreme Court; President Zardari builds opulant Bilawal House in Lahore; unknown people blow up a gas pipeline in Karachi; PIA plane crash lands in Muscat and shuts down airport; Sindh Assembly votes to drop the "H" from the word "Sindh" (which is later found to be a mistake). The headlines just write themselves, don't they? I'm amazed how anyone is able to even say the word "Pakistan" while keeping a straight face.


On the other hand, Lazaro's letter going viral on Facebook (at least amongst Pakistanis with bruised egos) is cause for concern of a different sort. It is the continuation of an old colonialist trope: white people explaining "the natives" to one another. TIME Magazine explains how bad we are, while Lazaro takes the opposite side: Whilst on a charitable trip to Pakistan (white knight syndrome) I discover how good-hearted and intelligent the Pakistanis really are, and make it my mission (crusade) to explain this to an uncaring world.

We Pakistanis do not need another foreigner arguing our case to the International Court of the Media. We do not need a helping hand, a little help from the Western world. We do not need well-meaning foreigners to fulfill the white man's burden, no matter how well-meant it is.


What we need is to pull up our boots and transform ourselves. We know who we are, we know what we're capable of, and how short we are falling. That's our tragedy, and we have to own it. Millions of us realize this, and we're working on changing it. How successful we will be, and how we manage to raise ourselves in the eyes of the world is solely our responsibility.


What we need from Western media and Western philanthropists and Western organizations, is to be truthful and honest in their dealings with us. Don't use Pakistan to sell your newspapers, your elections, your drone wars, your military weapons. Don't use Pakistan to ease your conscience one way or the other. You don't have to pretend that we're a nation of Osama bin Ladens, or a nation of poor, helpless brown people who need saving from ourselves. How about just seeing us for what we are: a nation that's screwed up, with a little help from our friends, but mostly due to our own hubris, inadequacies, and short-sightedness? Editors, reporters, correspondents: how about not "promoting" one image or another, but just being objective, like you're supposed to be?


Oh, and one more thing: Stop calling Pakistan "she". Pakistan does not have a gender; neither do ships, abstract values (such as justice or liberty), or nature. Pakistan is not a damsel in distress that needs rescuing by strong, masculine arms. Now come back and see us again soon, you hear?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
 

Could the real Theresa May please stand up?

Steve Richards
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'