Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trust Us, Even If We Do Not Trust Ourselves

So, most of our readers have probably already heard about the advertisement that the Government of Pakistan took out in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. According to Dawn, the ad was first offered to the New York Times, which "refused to publish it, forcing Pakistani officials to go to a business newspaper with a specialised but influential readership."

Here is the ad (via the LongWarJournal):

Pakistan's 9/11 ad in the WSJ

Irrespective of the merits of the advertisement - and there are many who have questioned its design and message - one of the intriguing questions that arise is why the New York Times refused to publish it. A half-page ad is, after all, darn good revenue especially in these recessionary times.

According to the WSJ's own blog, which shrugged off the ad's chances of changing the anti-Pakistan narrative in the American media:

"The [New York] Times asked for “more clarity in the ad about who was placing it,” according to a spokeswoman for the newspaper. The Times did not hear back from the government and so has not yet run the ad, she said."

Well, our sources inform us that the problem about the source of the ad arose because neither the Pakistan Embassy in Washington nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) nor the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoI&B) were the sources of the ad. In fact, our sources confirm that none of these three Pakistani government entities was even consulted about the ad. In fact, the ad, designed by the Pakistani advertising agency Midas, was placed directly from the Prime Minister's Secretariat.

Why, you might ask, would the Prime Minister's Secretariat bypass its own subordinate media departments and its representatives who are specifically tasked with international relations work? Could it be, as our sources indicate, that the advertisement was the first instance of the country's premier intelligence agency directly placing an advertisement in a foreign publication?

The question that the WSJ probably needs to answer is how, if the three obvious points of contact (Embassy, MoFA, MoI&B) for advertisements from the Government of Pakistan did not sign off on the ad, was it able to confirm that the ad was, in fact, placed by the Government of Pakistan. According to the WSJ blog, which also raises this question:

"The ad as printed in the Journal carries a line at the bottom in small font saying “Government of Pakistan” next to a web address for the government. A spokeswoman for the Journal declined to comment."

Is there something essentially wrong about the ad? Aside from quibbles about the precision of some of the figures, some of the cringe-worthy wording ("Promising Peace To The World"?) and the obsequious offering up of Pakistan to the Americans, no. Is it wrong to try and sway public opinion in the US to a better understanding of the suffering Pakistanis have gone through in the fight against Al Qaeda-type terrorism? Once again, no. Those convinced that Pakistan is playing an evil double game will obviously poke fun at some of the assertions of the ad but there is no doubt that the often unnuanced and simplistic American narrative, that ignores how Pakistanis view the maelstorm they are caught in and their own interests, is in dire need of a corrective.

But what does it say about the Pakistani State if its organs feel they need to bypass each other to get a point across that, ostensibly, all of them should be agreed upon? What does it say about how policies are made and implemented?

Then again, we might also point out that the US$150,000 apparently spent on running the ad in the WSJ could have been better utiltized for things with a currently slightly higher priority than a PR exercise.