National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf on Thursday said that Pakistan needed to “unapologetically” share its narrative with the world.
Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad on national narratives, Yusuf outlined three words that encapsulated his approach to narratives: proactive, unapologetic, and pragmatic.
“Virtually every time we communicate, these three principles can get us anywhere we want to go. There is no reason for Pakistan to be shy because we have nothing to hide.
“The fact of the matter is that we have absorbed Western narratives of Pakistan to the point that even internally, there is a debate on whether Pakistan’s narrative is the correct one,” he said.
Yusuf said this was “mindboggling” for him since according to him, Pakistan had a “real story” to tell based on what the country was doing and stood for. “There is absolutely no reason to be apologetic about it,” he added.
The NSA outlined his experience when he came into government and elaborated on what he had found to be different, saying that for the first time he “realized that Pakistan has a real positive story to tell the world”.
“We actually have a story that is compelling, logical [and] true, which we must put out to the world for them to understand who we are and what we stand for.”
Outlining the problems he had identified, Yusuf said the most “important one … which bothered me the most and continues to” was a supposed element in Pakistan’s culture of communication — more internationally than domestically — of being “shy in presenting our view unapologetically”.
He questioned that when Pakistan had a story to tell and knew how to tell it, then why wasn’t this conversation being done “far more unapologetically — not emotively — to clarify that Pakistan is going to do XYZ because it’s in our strategic interests”.
Explaining the other problems, Yusuf said Pakistan was lagging behind other countries in rapid strategic communication using modern platforms and mediums such as social media.
“We were living in the world — and to some extent maybe even today — of public relations, press releases [and] responding to things at our own time. The world has moved on.”
Another problem, according to him, was “speaking our language to others and expecting them to understand what we’re saying”. Yusuf said the same narratives and talking points couldn’t be used everywhere in front of every audience on every occasion.
Apart from just the content, he added that it also mattered who was delivering the message and how they were delivering it.
The NSA also questioned why Pakistanis weren’t being heard more and why more people were not presenting their point of view through writing or public appearances.
“How many Pakistanis who understand Pakistan are in think tanks in key capitals?” he asked.
He said people with an understanding of the country’s internal context were needed instead of an outsider’s perspective.
‘One national narrative’
The NSA also elaborated on his perspective of a national narrative, saying that he didn’t believe in striving towards a singular narrative.
“I think there are multiple narratives that have to come together to create a whole which is what Pakistan stands for as a country and as a nation. Narratives always have to reflect reality.”
He said there was a difference between how Pakistan and other countries — pointing out India in particular — approached the narrative building.
“Our model is to project our rightful reality to the world. Their model is to create a whole global network of fake news to malign others,” Yusuf said, referring to the EU DisinfoLab report that uncovered a vast network of coordinated fake local media outlets in 65 countries serving Indian interests, as well as multiple dubious think tanks and NGOs.
“When you show planes flying over the UK as planes belonging to Pakistan flying in Panjshir then you will be debunked and humiliated for that.”
Policy prerequisites for creating narratives
The NSA said certain prerequisites were needed for creating narratives. One of them was having a “whole-of-government-coordinated-approach”.
“You can’t have narratives in which you are inherently contradictory about what you’re telling the world,” he explained, adding that better coordination would mean better results.
Yusuf also said that national narratives which didn’t have public support could not be achieved. He said national dialogue was required on the following key areas to pull this off:
- Character as an Islamic country
- Unity in diversity
- Human welfare for everyone
- Pakistan’s democratic and federal nature
- Pakistan’s stance for peace within and in its neighbourhood
“Essentially a charter of economy, national security and identity — these three national dialogues are necessary … to bring this public buy-in to our national narratives.”
Yusuf reiterated that Pakistan needed to convince itself of its story that the world has to hear. These stories included sacrifices made by Pakistan, losses borne which were not of the country’s making, and Pakistan’s “unique” utility to the world as a “nuclear power, geoeconomic location and trade, and transit hub”, he added.
“We just need to make sure we are convinced of our own strengths,” the NSA stressed.
Yusuf said that over time “every critique would be defeated because there is not a single thing that Pakistan should not be conveying to the world [and] nothing that we should be apologetic about or hold back on.”