National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf on Thursday said that Pakistan needs to "unapologetically" share its narrative with the world and the country was “far behind” others in terms of strategic communication.
His remarks came at a seminar in Islamabad on national narratives, where he highlighted the three words that captured his approach to narratives: proactive, unapologetic, and pragmatic.
According to the NSA’s outlined problems, the most “important one … which bothered me the most and continues to” was that there “is something in our culture of communication – less so domestically but mostly internationally – we are shy in presenting our view unapologetically”.
He asked, “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,” especially given that Pakistan has a story and knows how to tell it.
"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,” he stated, adding that other countries had moved onto forms of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, for real-time engagement.
“We were still following a very conventional model of strategic communication to build narratives”.
Read NSA highlights need to be proactive, unapologetic, pragmatic
Yusuf went on to say another issue was that Pakistan’s narratives did not always align with those of the West, particularly in the case of Afghanistan wherein Pakistan was used as a “scapegoat”, and “every problem was blamed” on Pakistan.
Another problem, according to him, was speaking "our language to others and expecting them to understand what we’re saying".
“The same narratives and talking points couldn’t be used everywhere in front of every audience on every occasion. Apart from just the content it also matters who is delivering the message and how they are delivering it,” he maintained.
Yusuf further asked why Pakistanis were not being heard more and why more people were not presenting their point of view through writing or public appearances.
He highlighted that other countries have “lobbies against us” and gave the example of Indians who “spend more time undermining Pakistan than perhaps looking after themselves”.
This led him to question why the voice of Pakistanis isn’t “being heard more”.
"How many Pakistanis who understand Pakistan are in think tanks in key capitals?" he asked, before clarifying that Pakistanis did not necessarily have to agree with what the Pakistani state stands for but could also critique it.
“The difference is you need people who understand the context from within rather than having an outsider look into Pakistan”.
"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 said.
Furthermore, he 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 realised that Pakistan has a “real positive story to tell the world".
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"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."
Yusuf also elaborated on the idea of a single national narrative, claiming that he didn’t believe in striving towards it.
"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,” the adviser maintained.
He said there was a difference between how Pakistan and other countries — particularly our “eastern neighbour”, India — 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… being the principal target, we’ve seen in the European Union Disinfo Lab report last year," Yusuf said.
"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
Certain prerequisites are needed for creating narratives. One of them is having a whole-of-government-coordinated-approach,” Yusuf stated.
“You can’t have narratives in which you are inherently contradictory about what you’re telling the world,” he said, adding that better coordination would mean better results.
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Yusuf maintained that national narratives required public support and those which didn’t have public support could not be achieved.
According to the adviser, a national dialogue was required in the following 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
Yusuf echoed that Pakistan needed to convince itself of its story that the world must 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,” he emphasised.