One can only wonder what we are doing wrong and what the Sri Lankans are doing right. In the words of one of my former editors, Vipul Mudgal, the way things are heading for the island state suggests that it will be leading the rest of South Asia in the next five to ten years.
A visit to Colombo contrasts somewhat with visits made in the times of yore. The Sri Lankan capital was always spick and span but it is now also safe and convenient. And with the amount of investment the island state is receiving these days, it is clear that Sri Lanka is heading places. Real estate is booming and a number of hotels are opening up. Tourism continues to attract many, and the island earns in billions from it.
I was in Colombo to attend a conference on media ethics – which some Pakistanis point out in jest is a contradiction in terms. The conference was hosted by the Sri Lanka Press Institute which is a distinctive body put together by local media houses to help train Sri Lankan media personnel.
The fact that the institute has been running for several years now suggests that media owners are serious about professional development. There is also a Press Complaints Commission affiliated to it. Such an initiative needs to be replicated in Pakistan and other countries of South Asia. Like our government, the media here is also out of control.
Emerging from a conflict that spanned several years and from the presidency of flamboyant president Mahinda Rajapakse who was voted out of office in January, Sri Lankans are now hopeful of better days to come. The media is particularly positive of healthier times given the tough times of the past few years.
To give them credit, Sri Lankans have a healthy dislike for international NGOs which they saw as being part of the problem and not the solution when it came to their conflict. Similar is their disdain for western powers who were not able to do much in terms of their conflict and instead helped prolong it.
Many are angry over the one-sided coverage received in the Western media on their conflict. While one cannot deny the casualties on the Tamil side, senior journalist Namini Wijedasa says that the damage caused by the militants seemed to have been under-reported.
The Chinese are present in large numbers in Sri Lanka. So much so that one leading publisher is thinking of starting a Chinese publication to cater to this readership. And they are welcomed in the country because they invested at a time when no one else did. So they are now reaping the benefits.
For Pakistanis, this is also one of the few countries in the region where they are welcomed with open arms. They credit it with helping win their civil war. But Pakistan has been unable to take advantage of the situation and the goodwill of the Sri Lankans is now running out for us.
Pakistani business, barring a few banks, is largely reduced to khepiyas to come and go out of the country, merrily smuggling this and that. There is little by way of investment from our side in this booming economy regardless of the fact that there is a huge market for our products. We import Lankan tea and other products while our nationals spend millions in the pearl island state by way of tourism but we are not ready to take this forward.
Our high commission’s press attaché, Daud Ehtisham, a pleasant young man, laments how the Indian media has a substantial representation here while there is no such presence from Pakistan. And the fact that in Pakistan, Sri Lanka does not seem to be one of our priorities despite the goodwill and opportunities here.
If we can overcome our political tamashas and have some control over our law and order situation, which doesn’t seem to show any improvement to date, maybe at some stage we can have a forward looking economic policy that also supports our political interests. Right now we have a blind government leading the blinkered.
Different quarters are fighting for control through democratic and undemocratic means. We are our own worst enemies and do not let anyone get ahead of the other.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2015.
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