By Shazia Anwer Cheema
Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) convened its Apex Committee meeting on 16 November 2023 to review various initiatives being led through the SIFC.
It is undeclared that the meeting must have reviewed the emerging scenario of the Middle East because the target market of SIFC is primarily Gulf states and SIFC is collaborating with Middle Eastern companies such as the Kuwait Investment Authority, G42, Ma’aden (mining company’s consortium), Barrick (leading gold and copper producer), Aramco, Manara Minerals Investment Company, ACWA Power (water desalination company and energy producers), Qatar Investment Authority, Public Investment Fund, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Oman Investment Authority. In the first week of November, Pakistan had a roadshow for SIFC in Dubai and is showcasing opportunities available in Pakistan for investments in sectors including agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining, and other services (electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply, telecommunications, computer programming, consultancy, and related activities). It is implicit that if Israel-Palestine unrest spreads to other parts of the region then it would surely harm the regional economy and would hamper the targets Pakistan is pragmatic to achieve through the SIFC initiative.
Pakistan’s domestic politics has an innate tendency to serve its interests and sometimes, the lack of a clear state narrative provides a vacuum to be filled by self-serving agendas of politicians and their mouthpieces sitting in media outlets generating hate speeches
The uncertain security conditions in the Middle East have surely put an extra burden on Pakistan’s foreign policy. At the same time, the situation is providing opportunities for Pakistan’s enemies to manipulate the event to launch a strategic campaign for exploiting public opinion against the state narrative over Middle Eastern developments. There are voices already present in Pakistan claiming that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) must have taken a harsh position against Israel and that the OIC communique that came after the extraordinary meeting was not enough. Such voices can be found in mainstream media and even the state media got trapped in the recent past. Now the risk is higher and responsibilities are greater to manage the situation when politicians are fueling their speeches against OIC states as well as against the interim government because election season is already here and domestic consumption of international politics has been an integral part of Pakistani politics.
The political cadre must realize that criticizing OIC for the Palestine issue is a direct attack on Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with the Middle East and compromises Pakistan’s economic future
Pakistan’s domestic politics has an innate tendency to serve its interests and sometimes, the lack of a clear state narrative provides a vacuum to be filled by self-serving agendas of politicians and their mouthpieces sitting in media outlets generating hate speeches. Enjoying the ultimate freedom of speech certain political elements are criticizing Gulf countries and blaming them for not having the will to deal with the current situation in Gaza by forgetting the reality that OIC is a discussion forum based on democracy and is political in nature. OIC is not a military alliance or a security pact that can decide when and where a war can be waged by Muslim countries.
The foremost challenge state media managers face is informing the media analysts about the state narrative and bridging the gap in information flow
The political cadre must realize that criticizing OIC for the Palestine issue is a direct attack on Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with the Middle East and compromises Pakistan’s economic future. Even Pakistani private media channels airing debates and discussions disapproving the OIC, however, there are very few people capable of playing the balancing act of keeping the state narrative and objective-discussion both in mind. Criticizing an organization or even a country in an individual capacity does not matter but when social media echoes with same sentiments and mainstream media follows that by thinking that this is the sellable commodity of the day then state projects, diplomacy, and the economy suffer badly. If the state provides a clear stance to the media outlet based on long-term strategic goals, then that narrative will fill the space and leave no room for the enemies’ operators to damage Pakistan.
The foremost challenge state media managers face is informing the media analysts about the state narrative and bridging the gap in information flow. The information that flows through social media is becoming source material for the content produced by mainstream media, though it must have been the other way around.
The second point to be explained by state media managers is that Pakistan has a stated position over the Palestine issue and has never changed its pools. Still, it does not mean that Pakistan should defy diplomatic norms and start pointing fingers at other countries for doing less or doing more. International politics is never played in the open, it always works through back channels, putting every move on the front desk is a naive demand which is being put in the minds of Pakistanis via funded propaganda. Pakistan neither can leave OIC nor Palestine so bad-mouthing for gulf countries by Pakistani media will further expand the layers of problems we already have.
Living in the West for over a decade, I observe the Western states provide a clear stance about a particular situation and then state as well as private media sing the same tune across domains. They unanimously in their intellectual capacity try to justify their state narrative but in Pakistan, I always kept wondering why statesmen (all politicians are statesmen of the future) are always ambiguous about their stances and that ambiguity and lack of clear narrative provide a vacuum to be filled by our enemies by injecting fabricated or fake information. Some Pakistani politicians are always entangled between domestic following and the state’s interest and mostly they prefer their domestic gains. Another important point is why our domestic narrative is usually not aligned with the state narrative. The answer is that state media managers fail to provide and propagate the state narrative which provides a breeding ground for a domestic narrative that can be supplied by our enemies and primarily based on emotional consumption having no space for the state to serve higher goals.
In the West, think tanks are one of the main sources of training and interaction with politicians, academicians, media managers, and regional experts and they provide guidelines for building a narrative over any important international/national issue. However, things are otherwise in Pakistan. Once I went for an interview in one of Pakistan’s biggest state-funded think tanks. I remember a gentleman who was also Head of the think tank told me “Madam your ideas are brilliant but we don’t have the capacity so why don’t you start your own think tank?”. I could not understand whether he was talking about a think tank or a candy shop. The point here is that even those who are supposed to build a state narrative either have no capacity or the will to do that. The majority of think tanks in Pakistan are event management centers, they organize events, hold photoshoots, and consider their job is done. To my understanding, the majority of Pakistani think tanks lack a research culture and they do not interact with the public, politicians, media analysts, and independent researchers.
An additional important point is that there is a common perception inculcated in our masses by so-called intellectuals surviving on capitalism that aligning with the state is a lesser level of intellectual capacity and to sound highly intellectual one must defy the state’s interest and criticize every move a state is making.
This unfortunate scenario can also be changed with a well-articulated state narrative and its proper circulation through mainstream media. Therefore, the heavy responsibility lies on our state media managers to feed the clear-cut stance of the state across the board by involving think tanks, politicians, media analysts, and independent researchers about sensitive issues like we are going through because they are crucial for spreading the coherent narrative of national identity and for fostering unity in diplomacy.
It is the state’s responsibility to bring all important stakeholders mentioned above and align them to achieve the target of a consolidated and strong national narrative.
Hearing, reading or assembling a narrative from smaller pieces helps us to determine if something is good, useful and even beautiful. At the same time, changing narrative has the power to change perceptions of our environment. Bad can become good, ugly-beautiful, all without any changes in physical structure.
Shazia Anwer Cheema is an author, and analyst and writes articles for national and international media outlets. She did her M.Phil in Cognitive Semiotics from Aarhus University Denmark and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague.
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.