In a recent discussion in our Masters of Journalism class, we were discussing how isolated we are becoming as a country. We rely on second-hand news sources largely to report on our region to begin with. Our official news agency, APP, and other media houses have a sprinkling of reporters — none in the region. There is no Pakistani journalist stationed in Afghanistan, Iran, China or Bangladesh, let alone in Turkey or beyond. We do not know what others are thinking. We assume with the help of Western media and other sources.
But the isolation does not end there. In comparison to our neighbouring countries, we are losing out on the expertise that would come from our open interaction with the outside world. There are many ways to gauge where we are heading.
Let us start by looking at foreign companies on the ground in Pakistan. Initially it was said that some companies were winding up because of the law and order situation. But now when things are looking better, the good long-term investors are still closing shop.
We import foreign brands but have few joint ventures. The number of foreigners in the corporate sector is almost nil. In most instances, multinationals have Pakistani CEOs. Foreign nationals bring an international perspective. We are losing out on that. Similarly, the number of foreign airlines serving Pakistani airports has gone down significantly. Look at sports. No team wants to play in Pakistan.
Visiting Pakistan is an ordeal. Despite the open-visa regime, bureaucracy makes it almost impossible. Others complain of long waits at embassies abroad.
Barring the very brave who may have a death wish, no one really wants to visit Pakistan. From the day they land, most foreigners complain of being followed, harassed and having to bear with substandard facilities. Hotels are prohibitively expensive and people usually are out to fleece foreigners.
Most foreigners (barring the Chinese) are not allowed to travel the country freely. If a Westerner turns up at a small town in Pakistan, the intelligence agencies of that town go into overdrive. For most Pakistanis, every Westerner is a CIA agent, particularly those who speak Urdu or a local language. Foreigners find this absurd and funny in the beginning but with a few days they are frustrated by this attitude. Gone are the days of exploring new areas or places off the trodden track.
Let us forget this nonsense about our warm hospitality, most foreign visitors say that many Pakistanis want to cheat them — whether the taxi driver, the money changer or the porter at the airport.
Overseas Pakistanis are our window to the world. Their input, in many instances, makes things worse. For many, their perspective of Pakistan is the year they left. Many live in a world of nostalgia and when they come here, they expect things to be that way. By and large many overseas Pakistanis have regressed in their views and outlook while living in closed communities in their adopted homelands.
Academia is no exception. Most foreign teachers and trainers have left. Our government has issued a circular through Nacta that forbids interaction with foreign organisations or entities. We have already shut down a number of international NGOs, harassing them as if they were criminals. This has resulted in the suspension of programmes from which poor Pakistanis benefited.
The only neighbour we are on good terms with is China. We are on terrible terms with India, Iran and Afghanistan. China, too, remains wary of the type of visitors who enter into the restive Xinjiang province. We are testing their patience.
We live in a vacuum. The best comparison would be North Korea. We have shut ourselves and have started believing our own propaganda. Our ignorance knows no bounds. That is why we believe in cars that run on water. Or that there is a world conspiracy against Pakistan. We are right, everyone else is wrong.
Many in Pakistan still don’t believe that the Taliban inflicted the casualties they did. Others say the same about the APS. In the absence of any mirror to see ourselves in, we believe we are the best. It was with sarcasm that Gamal Abdel Nasser once remarked that it seemed Islam was discovered in 1947. This isolated nation is becoming the new North Korea.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2018.