Pakistan admittedly is facing an image problem among the fraternity of nations, with all its negative consequences for the country; a phenomenon that needs to be urgently addressed. Needless to emphasise that this state of affairs owes greatly to the rise of terrorism during the last 30-40 years unleashed by the geo-political developments in our region fuelled by a skewed narrative orchestrated by its proponents who used the distorted version of religion of Islam to advance their nefarious designs.

The fissiparous and centrifugal forces unleashed by this development obscured our national narrative. While the terrorist outfits continued producing crops of terrorists through indoctrination of the young minds, no worthwhile effort was made at the national level to develop a counter-narrative to fight terrorism on the ideological front besides using the state power to destroy the terrorist infrastructure or physical elimination of the terrorists. Consequently our original national narrative was consigned to obscurity creating disconnect of our youth with their culture and national heritage, the forces that are considered an imperative and indispensable ingredient of national unity, peace and progress.

It is universally recognised that development, peace and tranquility are culture-bound. The national narrative rooted in and bound with the cultural moorings and nurtured by the flair of national heritage not only acts as catalyst for national integration but also helps the country to develop and foster its national identity that also takes care of its image at the global level. It is absolutely essential for a country like Pakistan with cultural diversity. We need to use this cultural diversity as our strength in showcasing the real face of Pakistan to the world to promote its soft image.

Pakistan undoubtedly is a land of many splendours, cradle of old civilisations and cultural entities which can be effectively used and marketed to achieve this objective provided these features and attributes are exhibited appropriately and imaginatively at the international level as well as instilled in the minds of the youth who are 60% of our population and the architects of the future of our nation. They do need avenues for entertainment and engagement in the pursuits related to their cultural heritage to scuttle and minimise their vulnerabilities to the narratives that tarnish our national identity. Appropriate highlighting of successes against terrorists, improvement in overall law and order in the country and the economic resurgence can also help in addressing the image problem. Special attention is needed to protect the children from the disruptive and misleading ideas propagated and agitated by anti-state elements. Most of the countries have regulatory mechanism in place to ensure that the children are not exposed to any harmful stuff and instead the visual mediums invariably ensure airing or broadcasting children content which ingrains the social and cultural values in their minds and guides them towards healthy and productive activities. Countries like India have set up Children Content Authority to deal with the issue.

Pakistan needs to rediscover its original national narrative by developing mechanisms, tools and a congenial environment for the revival of our cultural heritage. This strategy is invariably an integral part of the government policies of many countries around the world and the tool that is employed to achieve this objective is the medium of films and broadcast productions.

As history demonstrates, film—-amongst other art forms—-can be a powerful weapon for propaganda. The positive side of this coin is the ability of the film industry to provide and promote multiple perspectives on historical events, societal mores and norms and unleashing the process of transformational change that discourages the emergence of fissiparous and divisive tendencies in a society and neutralises the impact of harmful social taboos and attitudes that hinder creativity and openness. The film and broadcasting industry has a transnational role in projecting cultural values of a society among the global fraternity besides a pivotal integrative contribution to the cultural domain at the domestic level. The films by encouraging creativity can also help in harmonizing the cultural values with the new regional and global cultural trends to avoid confrontational scenarios.

Countries around the world and in Asia including India, China, Singapore and Hong Kong being aware of the significance and indispensability of having a vibrant audio-visual industry have taken initiatives to protect their film industries from the onslaught of the new technologies, reviving them in consonance with the emerging trends and cultural practices, through regulatory mechanisms and policies. Malta also announced a five-year National Film Policy in 2016.

Some countries with a view to re-establish their film and broadcasting production industries have also gone for audio-visual co-production with other countries. China and India signed Audio-Video Co-Production Treaty in 2014 during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jin Ping to India. The treaty aims to bring the two countries together to pool their creative, artistic, technical, financial and marketing resources to co-produce films. Similar cooperation among European countries has also materialised.

The over-riding considerations behind the efforts by these countries to revive and promote the film industry and other forms of entertainments, are invariably cultural rather than economic, though the industry also has a role in the economic development.

For a country like Pakistan grappling with the issue of perception, screen tourism is also significant from the perspective of cultural and economic considerations. There is a burgeoning trend among the countries around the world to showcase their historical sites, places of tourist attraction and film shooting destinations through screening locally produced films in the foreign countries as well as within the country to promote tourism, with all the accompanying economic and cultural benefits.

In view of the role of films and cultural heritage in building the national narrative and consolidating and nudging the process of development, the government has announced the first ever National Film and Cultural policy. The policy envisages formally according the status of industry to the film industry; establishment of finance fund and film academy; building of film studios; restoration of the Directorate of Films and Publications and abolition of duty on import of film equipment, film censor fee and sales tax; inclusion of artists in the health scheme and 70% rebate to the foreign film producers on travelling allowance and eatables. The policy also stipulates that on national days only the Pakistani films would be screened.

In the domain of culture the focus will be on building cultural infrastructure; promotion of visual and performing arts and theatre; development and preservation of sites of folk and tradition culture as well as archaeological places; determination of cultural principles and priorities for the youth and documentation of extra-ordinarily strong culture, literature and traditions.

Pakistan has also signed cultural accord and agreement for cooperation in the film industry under which Pakistani films would be screened in China and Chinese movies would run in the Pakistani cinemas.

The foregoing steps can really help in reviving the real narrative of Pakistan and showing true face of Pakistan to the world; a countenance exuding love and peace provided the objective are pursued with unruffled determination, sincerity and commitment.