Would you buy Pakistan?

Published: August 2, 2010

Is this the image of Pakistan we want the world to see? PHOTO: AFP

Marketing cannot be limited to individuals or enterprises. Pakistan is in dire need of a new image and nation branding can help build it.

When Pakistan was conveniently paired with Afghanistan to form the so-called ‘Af-Pak’ region, world over people were made to think that both countries stand in the same line when it comes to infrastructure and economy. Richard Holbrooke was named as a common ambassador for the two countries by the United States and common policies began to take shape.

Afghanistan is a drug-based economy that has no transport, communications or government structure. It has no signs of technology and has been torn-apart by the constant war situation. Yet, when such a country was branded with Pakistan, nobody seemed to have a problem with it. There was no lawyers’ movement or judiciary movement or youth movement or political movement. Did anybody notice how India categorically refused to accept Holbrooke as a common special representative to South Asia? By refusing to accept Holbrooke, India clearly branded itself as the bigger power in the region. A clear message was given to the US that India will not be treated like Pakistan. This is the power nation branding holds.

If we look back, there was a time when there was an Indo-Pak region. Both countries were treated alike, given both were progressive economies. India successfully branded itself as an emerging world power. It is no longer seen as a competitor for Pakistan, rather India aims at China. Some things went wrong in Pakistan, the continuous political structure breakdowns due to military interventions are hackneyed issues and I will not discuss them. Still, a better global image can be painted for Pakistan.

The core issue is, can a country be branded? Sure, why not.

However, the technique used to brand a country is obviously slightly different from branding a corporation. Countries like Turkey and Bahrain advertise their abundance of skilled labor and ask others to invest in them. Their advertisements are aired on television and published in magazines.

Goldman Sachs argued that, since Brazil, Russia, India and China are developing rapidly, by 2050 their combined economies could eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world. The name ‘BRIC’ was given to this group of countries and it began splashing on every piece of publication ensuring the presence and emerging strengths of the respective countries. It helped build investor confidence in these economies.

In fact Af-Pak, Islamic bomb and failed state are all marketing buzz words used to brand Pakistan. The people are made to feel weak and exposed by constantly feeding them with such rubbish, sadly by our own media as well.

How is it that Pakistan was unable to cash on the N-11? The Next Eleven is yet another list of countries published by Goldman Sachs in late 2005, which includes Pakistan. With time, it was clarified that the N-11 may never be as big as BRIC, but they will emerge nonetheless. Maybe this is not as exciting, but there is a need to pursue the thought in any case.

Pakistan is one of the biggest users of the Internet and mobile phones in the world. Access from China to warm waters; from Central Asian countries to the most densely populated democracy in the world, we have it all. Moreover, an overflowing supply of young population. These are signs investors over the world look for. Do they know about Pakistan?

I have to touch upon the Pakistani media to establish the branding case. The hopelessly pathetic level of journalism in Pakistan has brought shame and disgrace, watch the news every day for ten minutes and you will turn into a heart patient. The news channels, to catch the audience’s attention, would say anything and everything disgusting about Pakistan. Whether the talk show anchors have hidden agendas or not, that’s a separate debate, but they sure have no sympathies with this country. From constantly abusing the politicians to continuous harping about how the country is about to fall apart, they have it all. Kill hope in people, you’ll kill the nation. That’s precisely what they are doing. International media only shows the handful of “news worthy” terrorists from Pakistan. So who will tell the world about the rest of the hard working population?

Over the internet, there is little positive you can find about Pakistan. Since the international media doesn’t show any of of good things that happen in Pakistan, this job has to be done by Pakistanis themselves. Search for ‘invest’, ‘trade’ or ‘tourism’ in Pakistan over the Internet and you will find nothing but dead links. Pakistan needs to go online. The Internet is a medium waiting to be used, not to be blocked. Nation branding was never easier.

Simon Anholt, an expert in nation branding said that ‘Places can only change their images by changing the way they behave.’

This can’t possibly be challenged by any sane person.

To brand Pakistan, the first step is cooperation between the public and private sector. The branding agenda should be clear and concrete, and the masses have to be educated accordingly. Some cultural and regional strong points must be identified and promoted in an attractive way. Effective advertisements can be used to influence public behavior. For a country like Pakistan, there is so much that can be highlighted to represent a true national identity. The challenge of having four culturally distinct provinces is actually a strong point that has never been placed on the table. Instead, we use them to create borders.

Malaysia Truly Asia, Incredible India, Invest in Turkey, Invest in Macedonia and Discover Indonesia are just a few campaigns. I am not suggesting an exactly similar campaign, given the present scenario and dynamics of the region. For the time being, nation branding can help Pakistan regain its progressive image.

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Samir Butt

A former Youth Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Fulbright undergraduate scholar, freelance writer, public speaking trainer, IT consultant and marketing professional. He blogs at samiranwar.net.

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

  • Khadija Masood

    This was a thought provoking article! Great job!Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/pracker S. Ali Raza

    We need to work to build the domestic image before going for the International branding of the country. No one will believe you, even if your media shows all glory.

    good thoughts!Recommend

  • Usman

    Nice article , we need to do this but its very hard but not impossible but major problem is the lack of education n system here , in this part of world ppl are striving for their daily needs and keep on working for it if they will be satisfied from this side of the life then you will see the big things will surely came from ppl but we are unable to come out of this frustrated box.. need to came out of it as soon as possible. there must be some certain n defined policies from govt to ensure and let ppl secure in this country firstRecommend

  • http://www.TheIdeaArtist.com Umair Kazi

    Good idea! Branding Pakistan is no longer just an opportunity, it’s a necessity.
    I wrote about something similar earlier, have a read and let me know what you think!Recommend

  • Sleepless in Karachi

    PIA’s advertising used to offer a window into Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ali Haider

    A different perspective. Very nice!!Recommend

  • Asad

    Excellent thought provoking article. Let’s hope the relevant people pay heed to these issues. Recommend

  • Nida

    Thankyou for bringing such an important to light. Couldn’t agree more.
    Well done Samir!Recommend

  • http://sadaf-fayyaz.blogspot.com/ SadafFayyaz

    A different angle and approach….loved it Recommend

  • Nida


  • saher

    I like… we do need to change the image and no one else can do it but us… we should all start doing our bit :)Recommend

  • http://www.dataflowgroup.com Khurram Zahid

    By using the power of online media, especially using the web 2.0 system… people of Pakistan need to brand themselves and their country… Don’t just wait for the offline media to do it for you … just bombard the web with all positive things about our country … this is the medium where every single person who knows how to operate internet can take part … blogging is the first step you can take … lately, I read a list of top 10 intelligence agencies of the world, in which ISI was first among all 10. It was also mentioned that with very low budget it operated well… list was published in international online magazine check it here http://www.smashinglists.com/10-best-intelligence-agencies-in-the-world/Recommend

  • Isfand

    Great work!!Reputation is the first step.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/geek.maan Geek man

    I soooo agree with that media part :/ great article fellow fastian :DRecommend

  • Abdullah Zaidi

    Dear Samir,
    I will have to disagree on some accounts. I think when it comes to the question of establishing a brand, this question invariably leads to the question of Pakistani culture, heritage, ethnic diversity, religious diversity etc and all of this actually leads to the question of identity or ideology. I think our biggest failure lies in our inability to foster that ideology.
    Pakistan is a country which has witnessed extra-ordinary growth rates, but large scale poverty and uneven distribution. I have always argued that unless we give precedence to politics over economy we are going nowhere. In-spite of the fact that Pakistan has ripe economic potential it’s our politics (or more specifically our confusion over ideology) which cripples any across-the-board progress. So i suggest that we complete our domestic branding first.

    Nevertheless this is not to undermine the hope you were trying to instill. I like the fact that you undertake research before writing, and I completely agree with your opinion about the media. Recommend

  • Ghausia

    This was possibly the most well thought, well written article I’ve read on this website. Couldn’t agree with you more on the going online aspect.Recommend

  • Nauman S

    All agree with you Samir. Articles like these, especially from our youth, are the need of today. We have all heard, “charity begins at home”, so we don’t have to wait to become part of an awareness program. We can start from small and scale up. There isn’t a shortcut to success so we can take baby steps to create a brand and discover ways to promote our image as Pakistanis. This needs more direction and guidance towards the discovery and innovation, that would the light the bulb of developed Pakistan. I have a link to share and hope people find it useful:
    Opportunities In The Patent-Free ZoneRecommend

  • Ganesh Prasad

    Best wishes to you from an Indian!

    This is a great article, and there is no reason why Pakistan should not attain its true potential. Unfortunately, there seems to be some unwarranted suspicion of India and its motives among many Pakistanis. Indians are not interested in harming Pakistan. Quite the opposite. If the hatred and suspicion are abandoned and active cooperation is begun with India, South Asia will acquire an enviable branding of its own as a region bigger and economically more vibrant than China. Let’s make it happen.

    Ganesh PrasadRecommend

  • Avinaba

    I like this Article. Atleast someone told it frankly. Every nation should follow that. Forget about Religion, caste, Kashmir issue and all. Just talk about Money. Bcz at last Money can make a country prosperous……… Best of Luck…. :)Recommend

  • Kinza

    I’m so happy that someone wrote about this subject. I remember feeling very frustrated when Holbrooke was assigned to the “Af/Pak” region. This pairing, this single assignment, is going to have a long term impact on Pakistan’s perception by others. That although may be ‘superficial’ to focus on, but it does have a real impact – impact on investment as you pointed out, or policies towards Pakistan, etc.

    Part of the reason India was able to successfully distance themselves from the potential “Af/Pak/India” alliance was because they have a pretty strong lobby in the States. Maybe that is something we should work on. Does anyone know anything about the Pakistani lobby in America?

    Abdullah Zaidi, even if we can’t really be proactive in branding Pakistan’s image because we ourselves haven’t figured out who we are yet (I take it from your argument), we can at least be defensive and not let something like the “Af/Pak” branding happen. Recommend

  • Arsalan Kamran

    Pakistani Media Is Hopeless,and So are the Politicians! However We as a nation aren’t Good Listener and We can’t take Criticism As I always says taking Criticism and Correcting our flaws makes us perfect. “Once Gandhi Said, Don’t wait for leaders, Do it Yourself Person to Person”. However, Branding is a good Idea But We cant wait for good Leaders, something needs to be done instantly! because Media and our Leaders are ruining us.Recommend

  • Haider

    I agree with everything that you’ve written. However, I would like to mention that our Government already have a campaign going on. It’s called “Pakistan – Give me Money Give me Money”.

    I think we can come up with something much better.Recommend

  • http://levantine18.blogspot.com Paul

    As an American who has traveled to Pakistan, and has written about the cosmopolitan side of Pakistan, I can appreciate the desire to offer a more nuanced picture of Pakistan. Unfortunately, the nation brand is currently pretty toxic and no repackaging is going to fix it. Rather than trying to start with a major rebranding, start small and focus on issues like culinary diplomacy. Gastrodiplomacy and the promotion of Pakistani food would be a positive first step to showcasing another side of Pakistan. The richness of Pakistani cuisine would be a positive introduction to the culture of Pakistan to many places that currently have negative perceptions.Recommend

  • Afia jamal

    Excellent piece! youth can bring about a revolution through represnting themselves. They should start with blogging . Even uploading good videos on youtube will do alot. Our youth access internet and get the name of pornistan to our country.what disgrace!
    I am not a fan of India but it really amuses me how they capture on the opportunity . We are the producer of best banaspati rice but we were too laid back to get that branded . India got their banaspati rice branded and worldwide banasapti rice is famous as indian now
    it also amuses me how their local brands give competition to multinational comapnies . amul , mother diary and nirma washing powder are leaders of the category unlike nestle, surfexcel and ariel in pakistan. We still stay slave to mncs . Our youth want to be a part of mnc then give their talent to a local comapny . our media also portrays indian culture , the other day i was disappointed to see our actresses adorn in sarees just like indian women!
    Its high time we the youth , the future of this nation represnt our talent to the world. We can certainly make difference to this nation!Recommend

  • R. Qureishi

    A must read and a wonderful article. If we look at qualifications of our story teller and propagandist anchors, they are worse than the politicians. One will never hear a UK anchor saying, tauntingly ‘This GREEEEEAT BRITAIN’ while our anchors constantly make fun of the name of Pakistan. Recommend

  • Fayyaz Alam

    There are 100 full time staff in New Delhi who work for Brand India. Everyday they create some good news about India and spread it through different channels.

    I think Pakistan needs to support positive people in media. Instead of paying people to write political admiration which no one cares about, we also need to employ few full time people who have passion and want to support brand Pakistan. I am fed up with the people who want to glorify one rape in Pakistan while forgetting that every year 40,000 Russian women are killed or seriously injured by their spouse/partners who often get away with that. Now divide those 40,000 on 365 days of the year and then look at just 26 Million people of Russia!!

    Every year, half million (mostly women) fall victim to domestic violence in the UK. Police has let off many criminals who were grivious bodily harm (GBH) with just caution! Every year, more than 100 British tourists are murdered in the United States!

    Why we don’t know about above facts? Because those countries focus on positive side of their ‘brand’ image. They don’t tarnish their brand with ‘Sham-e-GharibaaN’!!Recommend

  • Rashid Saleem

    One of rising inflation in Pakistan is the less economic activity due to uncertainty and security conditions. Foreign investors do not see Pakistan as a potential place to invest. This is what terrorists have brought us. We need to fight this notion and claim to be a rational and liberal nation.Recommend

  • R. Qureishi

    @ Rashid
    Brother please read the article before commenting. What you are saying is right, but is not relevant to present article. Recommend

  • Ganesh Prasad

    Afia Jamal said:

    We are the producer of best banaspati rice but we were too laid back to get that branded .

    That would be Basmati. Banaspati (as Bengali speakers would pronounce Vanaspati) is a brand of shortening (hydrogenated vegetable fat) used in cooking. Yes, the Indians own that brand too ;-).

    Ganesh PrasadRecommend

  • Fayyaz Alam

    Well done Samir Butt

    Please keep repeating your message because most of the people don’t understand this enough. There is a need for greater awareness. Recommend

  • Fayyaz Alam

    One must remember that this positive branding is not to fool outsiders. This gives ‘self respect’ and improves behaviour of the people in the country too.

    If you consider yourself to be corrupt, terrorist and have poor self image, you are more likely to be involved in undesirable activities that will foster that image. Most of the problems in the world are due to negative attitude, not merely becuase of lack of opportunities! Recommend

  • Mohammad Arif Siddiqui

    What is needed in Pakistan is a redrawing the Provinces and redraw the number of members in the Senate and the Parliament. Punjab should be divided into North and South. Baluchistan should be divided into North and South Baluchistan. Thus instead of 4 there will 6 Provinces. There should be fixed and equal number of Senators elected from each Province say for example 20. In the Parliament Membership should be based on population say for example one candidate representing 25,000 registered voters residing in each Provincial District. There should be a Map of Voters District. Those Districts should be redrawn in each Census. Prime Minister should be elected by the joint session of the Senate and the Parliament. Minister of Treasury, Foreign and Defence, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Commender In Chief of Armed Forces are to be nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the joint session of Senate and the Parliament by a simple majority Votes. Heads of Army, Navy and the Air Force are to be nominated by the Minister of Defence and approved by the Parliament. Other Federal Ministers are to be nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by the Parliament.
    Federal Government to keep only 3 portfolios of Treasury, Foreign and Defence. Provinces should have autonomy in all other matters. Provincial Governors are to be elected in Provincial election. Provincial Chief Ministers, must be member of the Provincial Assemble who is to be elected by the Provincial Assembly. Chief Justice of the Provincial High Court is to be nominated by the Provincial Chief Minister and approved by the Provincial Assembly.
    These are very broad lines. Further details can be worked out by the Federal and Provincial Constitutional Committees.
    If these changes are made, I can see a good future for Pakistan. At the present time, with no or little change, I don’t see any lasting peace and security for Pakistan.Recommend

  • R. Qureishi

    @ Mohammad Arif Siddiqui
    Why we don’t read the article and are just tempted to comment. While points raised by you maybe valid, they are no way near what this article is all about!Recommend

  • Afia jamal

    ganesh, my bad!sorryRecommend

  • parvez

    Nice article Saamir but I think you have missed step one and without step one an exercise in branding is futile. Step one is to inculcate a sense of “trust in Pakistan”, name me one present leader (and I dont mean politician only) of our land who has ALL his assets, businesses, family in Pakistan.
    If your leaders have no faith how do you expect to sell “Pakistan”
    as a brand.Recommend

  • Anoop

    The writer speaks as if India’s branding is not deserved. And, tell me how is AfPak related to India for Holbrooke to be appointed special envoy?

    India is trying its best to get farther away from Pakistan as possible. Closed borders, tough visa regime, etc all point to that. I consider it an insult to even compare India and Pakistan. India has worked hard to achieve what it has(And, much much much more needs to be done still). Pakistan has just tried to be un-India. Recommend

  • Madiha Mustafa

    Well done dude!!!!!!its such a source of motivation..hope that people would take it positively (including our media) :)))) thnxxRecommend

  • Erfan

    Great article.


  • Sidra

    Hmm…unfortunately the reason Pakistan has high internet usage is that they are the number 1 country which google searches for porn. I believe this was posted on Google trends. It’s funny that people tell me that covering women reduces guys desire but i really think it does not. Anyway, I think it’s a good idea to promote Pakistan. However, a lot of time i see people promote Pakistan online and it’s clearly a lie…I think that is not good either. For example, telling people that it is safe for women to go shopping alone at night in Pakistan might make one feel good, but is really a lie. And marketing it as a honeymoon destination would be wrong too. For the average foreigner…, even people born of Pakistani parents, Pakistan is not a “relaxing” destination.

    I think one really good thing which always distinguished Pakistan was its northern areas; it had a unique beauty and could attract lots of adventure seekers. Before talibanization, this area was more liberal than Pakistan, and some tribes had even resisted the social pressure to convert to Islam. Pakistani cuisine is good, but much of it is indistinguishable from Punjabi or Mughlai cuisine in India. So it’s not a unique factor. It feels good to talk back and forth to think of POSITIVE things about Pakistan. But perhaps if we have to strain so much, we should focus more on creating the product…and then marketing it.Recommend

  • Raza

    @Anoop I have nothing against india or indians (My fathers family is still in india, so from american standards, I am half indian). I have many indian friends as well but the way you talk tells me you have nothing good to say about Pakistan. I don’t blame you or want you to have a positive opinion, but plain Pakistan bashing – over and over again (since you post alot) doesn’t help. Again, you are free to continue doing it but saying things you just said is neither productive nor would it win you any friends. It’s simply categorized as hate speech.Recommend

  • Anoop


    I come from South of India and people dont care much about Pakistan, to be frank. This may be due to the fact that Partition didnt play a heavy role in the society or due to the geographical distance or due to different language(only about 20-30% of India speaks Hindi/Urdu). So, for the North Indians Pakistan means something, but for the rest of India it is just an irritant.

    Pakistan had done a remarkable job till the 1990’s in economic terms and regularly out-grew India. But, decades of social and political mismanagement have come to haunt Pakistan.

    As a South Indian for me Pakistan is no different from say, Mexico. There is virtually very little connection. All I want is India’s growth and to Pakistan mind its own business and most important of all be stable. Recommend

  • Raza

    @Anoop, Fair enough. I am not asking you to care about us (frankly, I also feel the same way about north India vs south India – with the exception of a great friend from chennai), but I was merely suggesting to be bit more sensitive. I get it that you don’t care generally, but you do care enough to come to a Pakistani newspaper (which is good thing btw) – so whatever your stance is, doing an effort on your part to understand our problems would mutually help all of us. And besides, you can imagine how would it feel if I come to an Indian forum and avail every chance to degrade your nationality/ethnicity – knowing fully well it’s neither helpful nor appreciated. But again, this is a free will issue and I can only request – you are a better judge of your actions.Recommend

  • Anoop


    I can associate with Pakistan as I know Hindi and read Pakistani newspapers often. I find it interesting to read other country’s newspapers and it gives me a certain perspective about how things work there.

    I understand where you are coming and greatly respect your opinion. I can promise that I’ll never use unproved date to claim anything about Pakistan.Recommend

  • Anoop


    I can associate with Pakistan as I know Hindi and read Pakistani newspapers often. I find it interesting to read other country’s newspapers and it gives me a certain perspective about how things work there.

    I understand where you are coming and greatly respect your opinion. I can promise that I’ll never use unproved data to claim anything about Pakistan.Recommend

  • http://www.brandpakistan.blogspot.com Brand Pakistan Blogging

    We are here to build Pakistan’s international image in a great positive way for that a group of we technology adopting Pakistanis are offering our services through our Brand Pakistan Blogging project. Your this blog comes with a sensitive issue we are confronting and we are here to face it all together.Recommend

  • Maha

    Anoop! The writer is actually appreciating India, not degrading it unlike you who never misses a chance to gloat on our miseries.Recommend

  • http://www.talktika.com Arslan

    This is a good article, and thats what we need!
    A proper marketing campaign.
    We should take examples of countries like China, Turkey, Qatar & India, who are properly marketing themselves. Every country has problems and issues but there are positive things too which are actually the thing that a media should bring into the spot light.


  • Nobody

    Where did you get the impression that the writer was implicating India isn’t deserving of its brand? Based on most of the comments of yours I’ve read, I think you may just be used to being on the defensive and I’ve noticed you like jumping up to comment on a perceived slight, sometimes totally off base. The author was simply stating that Pakistan needs to worry about its OWN brand, irrespective of others and he was pointing out that as other countries, like India, HAVE ALREADY done so, we should work to do the same. As for being “un-India” (I believe it’s un-IndiaN), I think people like yourself have decided to make the assumption and now find it oozing out of every word that any Pakistani says because thats what YOU want to believe. Yet, as YOU said yourself that “Indians want to get as far away from Pakistan as possible.” Is that not “wanting to be un-Pakistani?” Pot calling the kettle black….why don’t you focus on being “as far away from Pakistan as possible” and stay as far away from issues that you clearly have nothing to contribute to and only want to use as a platform to spread your negativity and condescension. If I wanted to “stay as far away from India as possible” I wouldn’t be running around on their blogs and posting nasty often inflammatory remarks. Oh and FYI, if there are Pakistani who want to be UN-INDIAN, it’s likely because of people like you, not because of India as a whole. Try keeping your snide remarks to yourself, as you misrepresent your country. I’ve said before, try contributing positively on occasion, encouraging a healthy dialogue between the people of Indo-Pak and it may do wonders for your mental jewelry. (Yes, that’s right, I said INDO-PAK…the nerve!!) Cheers! Recommend

  • Nobody


  • Anoop


    “Where did you get the impression that the writer was implicating India isn’t deserving of its brand?”

    –> You misunderstand. To be talking of Pakistan and India in the same breadth is insulting for me! I draw the lines here.

    “Yes, that’s right, I said INDO-PAK…the nerve!!”

    –> Haha. This time I will let it go.

    “Is that not “wanting to be un-Pakistani?” Pot calling the kettle black”

    –> Very unlikely. I’ve developed this intense disgust of Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks and I dont see many positive things about it. I dont hate Pakistan but I am ashamed to have it as a neighbour. Labeling of un-Pakistan is, hence, not appropriate.

    Till Mumbai happened Pakistan was just another Country. Mumbai attacks changed everything. I began to look at Pakistan from a different angle and started reading about it. My commenting here is a way to understand the Pakistan and providing inputs. Since, I dont see many positives with Pakistan, how can I not say something negative!

    Why cant Pakistan be like Bangladesh!Recommend