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Institutional framework for narrative building in Pakistan

By Zia Malik

Defence Day is a reminiscence in Pakistan about inspiring tales of our defenders thwarting evil Indian designs in Lahore and Sialkot Sectors. As the discussions go around exploring ways and means to defend the country against complex contemporary challenges, we are reminded of transcending the nature of threats with significant influence on our national security paradigm. Understandably, factors like intense political polarization, beleaguered economy, perineal Indian threat, and global power contestation in the region are identified as key factors ceding space for hostile forces to pursue their nefarious agenda against Pakistan.

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Resultantly, these growing domestic fissures and external challenges increase Pakistan’s vulnerabilities as it continues to endure hostile narratives and propaganda unleashed by its vibrant adversaries both inside and outside the country. Given information overhung resounding unison employment of counter-narratives, peculiarities of Pakistan’s security landscape demand reinvigoration of the national narrative to help defend its ideological and geographical boundaries.

Academically, scholars of international relations are in agreement to relate narrative with deliberate and well-crafted themes and ideas to systematically represent a particular ideology. Narratives, as they believe, help to project our identities, priorities, national goals, and objectives. At the same time, these also help promote our identity as a state and reflect the social character of society. Moreover, the narrative also reinforces shared values and beliefs within our society which pronounce linkages between state’s policies and strategies.

Casting an eye through global political discourse, we appreciate that successive governments –  from the Greek era to west-backed capitalist countries –  have prevailed on the global stage by making the best of these narratives. Narratives based on a politico-ideological basis which were propagated during the Cold War era and post 9/11 have actually polarized the world. However, since its independence, Pakistan has struggled to develop and disseminate a singular narrative suiting the very fabric of its state.

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Debate on the institutional framework for narrative development in Pakistan brings to fore the country’s inability to translate its peculiar ideology, culture, geography, and foreign policy, into a wholesome national narrative. Adapting to complex domestic, regional, and global situations, Pakistan has always found it difficult to nurture indigenous narratives projecting its actual interests. The resultant unresponsive in existing narrative stems from multiple reasons like lack of institutional capacity, shortsightedness, flawed regional approach, and inability to map future trends in modern narratology. Pakistan continues to face significant challenges as it redefines its priorities by adopting realism in state policy – the biggest dilemma being the incapability to project its actual strengths when seen through the geostrategic prism.

The preceding context highlights intrinsic weaknesses in Pakistan’s narratology which lacks pragmatism, persistence, and effective communication. Major issues which bewilder this confusion include misperception of national identity, a weak democratic system and governance, a uniform education system, and a tattered economy. Similarly, ambiguity on foreign policy objectives, demographic outlook, civil-military relations, and law & order situation are some of the major issues meriting the rewriting of a national narrative.

Based on a geo-economic premise, Pakistan can develop some new narratives, at the heart of these lies a proactive and unapologetic outlook. First of all, the country needs to show Islam as a progressive force across it social fabric, representing core Islamic values as part of its state structure. National cohesion demands that ideological consciousness must be developed at the grass-root academic level to inculcate Pakistaniat in society.

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Second, an effective narrative to project strong democratic culture can better prevail through the devolution of maximum powers down to the district level, promoting meritocracy and ensuring political stability. Third, ‘English-Urdu apartheid’ demands addressing deficiencies across the public, private, and Madrassah educational system. A single National Curriculum is a step in the right direction to ensure uniformity of education. Broad-based consensus on education reforms is necessary to provide equal standards to all children irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds.

Forth, sustainable economic development is a prerequisite for creating an enabling environment for wide acceptance of all narratives. The country requires to embrace structural reforms, a broadening tax base, and a conducive business environment to attract foreign direct investment/ foreign remittances.

Fifth: navigating foreign policy headwinds in today’s geo-strategic environment underscores that national objectives be fielded through apt employment of strategic communication. This also necessitates that country’s diplomatic maneuver extends its outreach across the global diplomatic community. Attractive narratives on Pakistan’s exclusive features may be highlighted including its unique location in the region, diverse tourism opportunities, the endowment of natural resource potential, and youth budge.

Considering the discussion based on forgoing arguments, it can be concluded that the roadmap for crafting the new narrative for Pakistan demands a systematic and sustainable approach. Avoiding a whack-a-mole approach, the new narrative should actually purport our national character and represent a progressive society with a diverse culture. Truly, a multipronged cohesive approach can help Pakistan to defend itself against all the hostile narratives.

Note: The writer Zia Malik is an MS Scholar pursuing his studies at SZABIST, Islamabad. He can be reached at ziamalik02@gmail.com

Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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