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iPakistan is a new social media initiative set up by a group of Pakistani university students to change the global perception of Pakistan. Reaching out to others via the web, their aim is to re-brand Pakistan and break the stereotypes that often result in discrimination and prejudice towards its people.
Type out ‘Pakistan’ in the Google Images search bar and scroll down the first few pages: one would find pictures of maps, the Pakistani flag and images that spell out a country torn between poverty and war. Although this may be the harsh reality in some parts of Pakistan, it is not the only reality of this South Asian country, as some are prone to believe. With the kind of news surfacing daily regarding the conflicts, bomb blasts and political issues of not only the country, but also its neighbors’ it’s not hard to see why most people have a negative outlook on Pakistan. Rehman Ilyas aims to change this by replacing the post 9/11 images of terrorism, extremism and war zone to that of extremely talented youths, scenic landscapes and rich culture.
As a Lahori studying at the University of Hong Kong, Ilyas found himself subject to questions about Pakistan ranging from relatively normal ones such as “Do you have any malls there?” to more ridiculous ones like “Is there Taliban in your family?” He was always aware of the injustice done by the world media news in regards to their portrayal of his country but he was unaware of the severity of it until he arrived in Hong Kong.
“People only got to see that 1% of Pakistan in which the War on Terror is going on, in the media, and take that to be representative of the entire Pakistan,” he said.
Instead of merely complaining, he took action and decided to play his part in correcting the wrongly propagated image of his country. He started with doing his own online research on the subject and pitching the idea to his friends, followed by doing pilot tests on Facebook and a trial website. A survey was even conducted to realistically depict what the world thinks of Pakistan. Tackling the issues from there, what initially started out as a personal contribution to his country has now expanded to a website and a Facebook page with contents from over 80 team members, a diversified group of youths spread over 10 countries all intent on introducing the real Pakistan to the world.
Ilyas also intends to reach out to the world for a greater purpose that could help Pakistan in a myriad of other ways. According to him, “The 2011 floods in Pakistan were worse than the Asian Tsunami and the Haiti Earthquake combined, and an area the size of England was inundated in water. Despite all this, the media coverage and global aid intervention received wasn’t even close as compared to these other recent natural calamities, simply because people around the world were not interested in helping out a country which in their minds, harbors terrorist groups and is a base camp for terrorist activities around the world.”
Setting the global views straight, even one person at a time, could slowly prove to be beneficial for 180 million Pakistanis. With Pakistani businessman and traders at exhibitions around the world facing difficulties when questioned about bringing in supplies reliably to and from a war zone, Ilyas’ project could have a positive effect on his country economically as well.
Along with changing the way others perceive his country, Ilyas would also like to see a few changes within the nation itself. Speaking for a majority of the population, he said, “Most Pakistanis crave for a change of leadership. We are done with having the same corrupt leaders elected again and again, and this needs to end now. Pakistan is blessed with both vast natural resources and human capital, and given the right leadership we have the potential to develop into a regional superpower.”
Another sub-project that Ilyas has been working on is ‘Romancing the Border’ and is aimed at another issue spread across the nation: the social gap between Indians and Pakistanis. With most youths having been raised with a mindset bearing hatred for the other side, the stereotypical views separate the youths despite the fact both sides may be similar to each other in a lot of aspects. Backed by Stanford University’s Peace Innovation Lab, this cross-border initiative provides an online platform for youth from both sides of the border to interact with each other and to encourage pro-social behaviors between Pakistanis and Indians.
Having received positive responses so far regarding iPakistan from both Pakistanis and foreigners, Ilyas hopes to reach out to the masses and in the foreseeable future, instead of us receiving war torn images of Pakistan as soon as we Google the word, iPakistan will appear on the top search results and bring about a positive first impression of the country.
Perhaps it is a sign of change in the world when youths stand up to defend their country, and not in the traditional means of violence or crude words, but by showing the rest of us what their nation is capable of, what makes it beautiful, and most importantly, what makes it their home and source of pride. With that, Ilyas leaves us with one last statement on his beloved homeland, “We are not a country supporting terrorism. In fact, we are the country which has sacrificed the most in the war against terrorism.”
Image credit: Shutterstock.com