“In September 1914, a secret propaganda bureau was set up at Wellington House in London.” Reportedly, Wellington House played an important role in carrying British propaganda across the globe. “Writers and newspaper editors were called upon to put together material which showed Britain’s war effort in a good light and to counter enemy messages.” The bureau “was said to be so secret that most MPs were unaware it existed.”

Apparently, Wellington House continues to inspire contemporary propaganda houses around the world. Cleverly dubbed as the “impartial and independent” guardians of the truth purporting to “inform, educate and entertain” people around the world, these agencies promote geopolitical interests of their masters under the façade of objective journalism. Pakistan is among the countries facing the onslaught of their misleading campaigns.

These propaganda bureaus are feeding negative stories about Pakistan to audiences worldwide. They are belittling Pakistan’s success in the war on terror by trying to demonize Pakistan’s armed forces in the eyes of Pakistani public and damaging the country’s image through a charge sheet of “secret human rights abuses”.

But these allegations are nothing new, neither for Pakistanis nor for the outsiders who are advancing their secret agenda through these claims. This is part of the wider strategy to drive a wedge between Pakistan’s civilians and its armed forces. Pakistan is paying the price for trying to chart an independent course of action by refusing to bow to calls of ‘do more’. The detractors of this shift in policy are plotting to undermine Pakistan by targeting the armed forces who are regarded as the symbol of national unity. The bedrock of their strategy lies in cultivating deep anti-army sentiments, and projecting these sentiments internationally to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation worldwide.

Recently, some sections of the international press gave slanted reports on the death of a blogger in Islamabad. The Associated Press story carried by New York Times alleged, “The attack took place hours after Khan bluntly criticized the newly appointed spy chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, who had previously worked as the head of internal security at Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence.” The report was trying to portray ISI as the murderer of the blogger even before a preliminary investigation could be conducted into the killing.

Similarly, reporting on the appointment of new DG ISI, Reuters alleged that Pakistan had appointed a “hardliner” to head the spy agency. The news agency does not explain how it concluded the new DG ISI to be a “hardliner”. If a hardline approach means unflinching commitment to Pakistan’s national security then everyone in uniform down from an ordinary soldier up to the Army Chief is proud to be a hardliner.

Earlier, unproved allegations of few individuals led the BBC to declare Pakistan’s war on terror as a secret war on human rights. Ironically, the foreign press failed to reach similar conclusions in the well-known case of “Hooded Men” who allegedly suffered torture at the hands of British forces during the campaign against IRA. The not-so-secret reports of human rights violations by foreign forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are also downplayed by the international press.

Anyway, in reporting criminal charges there is always the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. However, if you happen to be a British soldier the media gurus will try to prove you innocent even after proven guilty. To the contrary, Pakistani soldiers are guilty by default. Allegations against them do not warrant any verification or fact-checking.

This is not surprising given the penchant of some reporters for distorting and misrepresenting facts. After all, these “embedded journalists” had previously carried (false) news stories to project a “sexed up” dossier on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

Nonetheless, the onus is on Pakistanis to counter anti-state propaganda and present their narrative to the world. In this regard, one can learn from Israel which has invested immensely in lobbying and image-building activities.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) provides a glaring example in how to safeguard national image and national interest through proactive public diplomacy. AIPAC is always ready to defend Israel whenever a seemingly anti-Israel news story is published in American press. The Jewish lobbies are quick to label anyone critical of Israel’s policies vis a viz Palestine as anti-Semitic. Israeli lobbies hardly spare any journalist trying to cover incidents of human rights abuse committed by its armed forces in Gaza and the West Bank. Moreover, the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) helps Jewish students develop goodwill for Israel and counter any anti-Israel sentiment prevailing in American colleges - “Our mission is to inspire American college students to see Israel as a source of pride and empower them to stand up for Israel on campus.” Similarly, India is also expending resources in image-building. Almost every Bollywood movie tries to export Indian culture and Hinduism.

Pakistan should also invest in soft-power projection. The large Pakistani diaspora residing in Europe, Middle East and America needs to be linked with the state apparatus and enabled to project a soft image of the country worldwide. Pakistani students in other countries can be facilitated to counter anti-state propaganda and dispel misperceptions about the country. Similarly, the Pakistani film industry can also play a significant role in promoting Pakistani culture and values. These values should reflect the true image of Pakistan and help carry our national narrative to every corner of the world.