We must remember that before she was a paragon of Pakistani patriotism on social media, the controversial “PR consultant”, Cynthia Ritchie - who is currently fighting a fierce rearguard action on Twitter over some rather atrocious comments – broke onto the scene with a bike ride in Peshawar which went viral. While some pointed at the stage-managed nature of the whole show and the assistance provided by the security establishment in making the ride possible, the majority lapped up the spectacle and heaped praise on the US blogger for showing the “positive image” of Pakistan to the world.  

But as we have learned over the past decade, what is shown in social media posts is seldom an accurate representation of reality.

Once Cynthia Ritchie left the city and the cameras stopped rolling, the environment in Peshawar returned to where it where, and neither government nor any security agency seems to have any interest in maintaining the much venerated “positive image” anymore.

It certainly is ironic that the first women’s bicycle rally scheduled to take place in Peshawar, on January 19, was cancelled after Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami, and other religious parties on Friday threatened to protest against the event. According to JUI-F’s Maulana Rafiullah Qasmi, “the women’s bicycle rally is spreading obscenity”.

As is custom now, after the religious parties threatened violence, Peshawar’s district administration backed off from its responsibilities; which in this case would have meant ensuring that a harmless “peace rally” of 35 women exercising their constitutional right to freedom be protected.  Religious radicals win yet again, without a fight, yet again.

This sad state of affairs makes one question the amount of dedication the state puts in into propagating a positive image of a society – be it false or exaggerated – versus actually propagating a positive society itself. Government, state the ruling party’s members rushed forward to defend Ms Ritchie’s PR exercise – no one dares to defend the actual women of Peshawar.