Pakistan: Where life can be a blast

Published: July 20, 2011
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If only we would take a pragmatic approach to our fledgling tourism industry. PHOTO: ONLINE

The ‘enlightened moderation’ mantra from the Musharraf era prompted Pakistan’s oft-quoted ‘soft image.’ Seen as a much-needed leap beyond archetypal vistas of K-2 and the Lahore Fort (think 1970s photographs issued by PIA and the Ministry of Tourism), well-meant consultants were hired for the purpose of promoting a progressive image for the country—or at least, that’s what the aim was in flying out designers and models to put on fashion shows at Pakistani Consulates around the world.

One can almost imagine spectators gawking:

“Gosh, they have women in their country who don’t wear a burka and aren’t getting stoned for modeling?”

Err… yeah.

Even the glamour of Hollywood was meant to echo our new liberality, not by inviting big budget productions (A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie’s biopic on the Daniel Pearl killing, was filmed in India after being denied in Pakistan), but by maximising on Ms Jolie’s UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador duties in Pakistan. Angie’s tasks here have invariably involved shaking hands and posing for a lot of photographs with government officials and their extended families, in between her worthy visits to refugee camps. Here, one can imagine readers’ surprise:

“Look how excited Pakistani officials are to meet Angelina!”

Unsurprisingly, neither Pakistani bridal couture nor Ms Jolie’s formal sit downs with Pakistani heads of state from the last few administrations have succeeded in dispelling our international personification as a nation of angry, bearded men in puffy white shalwar kameezes who have fan posters of “Al Qayda” and the “Tally-ban” on their bedroom walls.

In terms of photography, a ‘soft image’ refers to a blurry, out-of-focus projection of reality that’s more pleasing to the viewer in that it’s flattering and softens the edges, like on soap operas or fairness-cream advertisements. However, in this age of real-time Twitter, Facebook and citizen journalism, it’s not so easy pull wool over people’s eyes because audiences want the real deal, not its Photoshopped version. For example, India’s yoga-ashram-kamasutra exoticism and kitsch song-and-dance culture is heavily promoted by both its Tourism Ministry’s advertising gurus (‘Incredible !ndia’),  Bollywood flicks and schmaltzy Hollywood movies like Eat Pray Love, but it takes one British Slumdog Millionaire to remind the world of the dismal urban realities of modern-day India (to the dismay of Mr Bachchan Sr and other promoters of celluloid lifestyles consisting of choreographed dancing and sequined outfits).

Back to our side of the border, there’s nothing heartwarming, nor glamorous, nor tourist-friendly to be called “The World’s Most Dangerous Country” by Newsweek (which we hotly denied at the time but then acceded with a shrug) and so many other things since then (we’ve lost count). Now, Malaysia (‘Truly Asia’) is a Muslim country where both tourists and locals can enjoy themselves without being ogled, whether it’s swimming at a beach, watching a concert, going dancing at a club or sipping a martini at a bar. Locals either join in or look the other way. The same goes for the UAE (‘Nowhere Like Dubai’), Indonesia (‘Wonderful Indonesia’), Turkey (‘A Never Ending Story’), the Maldives (‘Sunny Side of Life’), Morocco (‘The Most Beautiful Country in the World’), Egypt (‘Where It All Begins’), Jordan (‘Takes You Beyond’/’Explore The Hidden Treasure’), and many other Muslim countries which have a strong influx of tourism dollars despite potential civil unrest and a strong, positive brand identity in the world… something we desperately need, if only we would take a pragmatic approach to our fledgling tourism industry.

Now that we’ve established our dire need for an image overhaul and a tourism slogan (and ‘soft image’ and ‘Visit Pakistan’ are NOT slogans), how about some new taglines for discerning visitors:

  • Where Life Can Be A Blast (dark humour)
  • Destination Pakistan
  • We (Heart) Pakistan (for our die-hard expats who buy out PIA)
  • Fab Pakistan (i.e. the cooler side of Pakistan beyond tired, old stereotypes)
  • Grow With Pakistan (investors, this means you)
  • Authentically Pakistan
  • Purely Pakistan
  • A Cultural Paradise
  • An Experience Like No Other
  • Fascinating Pakistan
  • Rich in History, Warm in Hospitality

Tell us what you think in your comments below.

(Next week: Marketable Assets for Brand Pakistan—what we excel at and ought to promote, seriously).

laleen.khan

Laaleen Khan

An international columnist and media consultant who Tweets @laaleen

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.