Probably the most critical challenge facing Pakistan is the pervasive global misperception about the country, which also happens to be the most significant obstacle to the progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
When we engage with friends from around the world who have not had the opportunity to visit Pakistan, they often pose perplexing questions. They inquire about hooligans roaming our streets, vandalism being a common sight, and incidents of people firing at each other occurring with alarming frequency.
This misperception is not limited to international observers alone. Even when I tune in to our news channels, a sense of unease washes over me. It portrays a bleak image, as if criminals are lurking at every corner, ready to snatch away everything I hold dear. Fortunately, during my three decades of professional life, I have rarely encountered such situations, with the exception of isolated incidents during New Year celebrations.
Despite my extensive involvement in various social, legal, and official activities, I have never felt compelled to resort to bribery, even when dealing with complex issues. Having worked in different cities across Pakistan, interacting with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds, I have seldom witnessed any form of discrimination. Instead, I have formed strong friendships from Karachi to Peshawar.
Pakistan is a country with a population of 241 million individuals, and throughout the history of mankind, it is evident that no society has been completely free of evil, crime, and negativity. Our scriptures even authenticate the presence of a criminal mindset in the times of Adam (ع) and Eve (ع). Crimes are not unfamiliar to any of us across the globe, but sensationalizing unfortunate events in the mainstream media can severely harm a nation’s reputation, as it is currently doing for Pakistan.
From a statistical perspective, Pakistan ranks among the countries with lower incidents of robbery, theft, and murders. Reports from sources like the World Population Review and The Global Economy are readily available on the internet, and they clearly indicate that countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Uruguay, and Australia occupy the top four positions for the lowest crime rates, with the UK following closely at number 6 for theft rates. Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Ecuador are the top five countries with recorded robbery incidents, but Pakistan doesn’t even make it into the top 50.
However, when we observe global media coverage, it often portrays these nations with higher crime rates as less dangerous than Pakistan. Regrettably, both national and international media depict Pakistan as an unattractive destination, perpetuating this perception that hinders progress in various aspects, ultimately affecting the economy negatively.
Separatist movements are active in several countries, including India, but it is Pakistan that remains in the spotlight as a destination for extremists. Pakistan has made significant sacrifices to eradicate terrorism from the planet but has not received appropriate international recognition. Pakistan put everything on the line and remained committed to fighting terrorism, even prosecuting Pakistani citizens involved in any form of extremism.
Informal channels for remittances exist from the Americas to African countries and some Asian nations, but it was Pakistan that faced stringent monitoring measures from FATF, resulting in a “blessing in disguise” that improved several financial sector services in the country.
Political instability remains a challenge, despite four democratically elected governments completing their terms over the past two decades. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure political stability and the smooth progress of every sector. Political instability contributes to the fragility of the security apparatus, ultimately diminishing the overall productive capacity of the country. It is essential to dispel misconceptions about Pakistan if we truly desire to achieve economic progress.
It was expected that CPEC, with its excellent connectivity potential, would bring prosperity not only to Pakistani businesses but also support regional entrepreneurs in accessing potential markets beyond their borders. However, there has been little progress in this aspect since the project’s inception.
China, as a surplus economy, has a pressing need for shipping and logistics hubs across the globe. This necessity played a pivotal role in the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Gwadar, strategically located, has afforded Pakistan a distinct advantage over other regional ports, positioning it as a key shipping and logistics hub to facilitate China’s global reach. Both countries are witnessing remarkable growth in their respective logistics sectors.
China has already introduced a state-owned logistics giant aimed at enhancing its global competitiveness. According to a senior official, this company will prioritize ensuring the smooth flow of production factors within the ‘dual circulation’ development paradigm and building a secure, reliable, and highly efficient modern logistics system. Pakistan’s logistics sector is also experiencing rapid expansion, making it an opportune moment for Chinese enterprises to invest.
There has been a significant surge in religious tourism worldwide, as indicated by a recent report projecting the faith-based tourism market to grow by USD 25.85 billion this year. Among the rich historical traditions of Pakistan, Buddhist monuments and art hold a prominent place, recognized worldwide. Some regions that are now part of Pakistan played a crucial role in the development and spread of Buddhism globally. These areas were revered as among the holiest places in Buddhism and, for centuries, attracted travelers, religious practitioners, and scholars from around the world. The road network established under CPEC offers convenient access to several Buddhist religious sites in Pakistan, including Taxila, Mohra Muradu, Jandial, Mankiala, Takht-i-Bahi, Nimogram, and Dangram.
The advent of CPEC has unveiled the remarkable and previously concealed marine beauty of Pakistan. Those who have visited Gwadar have been mesmerized by its crystal-clear, tranquil, and azure waters. Coastal tourism has the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s economy, with natural treasures like Kund Malir Beach, Daran Beach Jiwani, Ormara Beach, Sonmiani Beach, and Gwadar Beach.
China is the world’s most dynamic food and agricultural produce market, serving as a net importer of bulk agricultural products such as grains, cotton, edible oils, sugar, meat, and milk. Approximately 70% of China’s agricultural imports originate from distant corners of the world, including the United States, Brazil, and Australia. Pakistan should seize the opportunity presented by China’s growing demand for food, currently estimated at $1 trillion per annum. However, realizing this potential requires collective efforts from all stakeholders, from top to bottom, to dispel global misperceptions about the country.
*The author is a consultant at the Pakistan Research Center, HeBei Normal University in China. Additionally, he holds the position of Associate Professor in Management Sciences and is the Head of the Center of Islamic Finance at COMSATS University (CUI), Lahore Campus, Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com
**The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility for the content of this article.