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Branding Pakistan: In need of an extreme makeover?

  • Story Highlights
  • Pakistan's business leaders believe the country needs a change of image
  • Despite a growing economy recent upheavals have deterred investors
  • Claims that negative images are also ingrained in Pakistani citizens minds
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By Zein Basravi in Islamabad, Pakistan and Brigid Delaney
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(CNN) -- What happens when a country is in the news for all the wrong reasons?

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Civil unrest, religious extremism, suicide bombers: Domestic problems mean Pakistan is suffering from a global image problem.

Pakistan has dominated headlines this week for violent demonstrations, declarations of a state of emergency, troops on the street and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under house arrest.

Even before the violence that greeted Bhutto's return to her homeland, Pakistan had an image problem: Terror training camps, violence against women, religious division and insurgency flare-ups are just some of the issues the country faced.

Leaders must have looked at India -- its neighbor to the south -- growing in prosperity and attracting investment and wondered if they could emulate its success.

This week, Pakistan's leaders addressed the problem of "brand Pakistan" and asked whether the country needed an extreme makeover.

In a speech repeatedly broadcast on Pakistan state television in recent days, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz called on the people to help make the country a prosperous place by building the "brand of Pakistan."

He was speaking to the Brands of the Year awards ceremony in Islamabad, designed to recognize the 100 best companies in the country.

"With the country having 160 million hard-working people -- out of which 100 million are below 25 years of age -- its geo-strategic location at the crossroads of various important regions, huge economic and investment potential and low cost of doing business, the government is trying to create Pakistan as a brand in the world," Aziz said.

Aziz spoke passionately of branding Pakistan as a place where business will flourish and where all the chariots pull the nation in the same direction.

For business leaders, a liberalized economy, clear rules of governance, an environment where corruption is unable to flourish and a deregulated business environment are key to attracting new business, growing the economy and improving Pakistan's brand.

The Karachi Business Declaration posted on Pakistan's International Chamber of Commerce Web site says "ICC and ICC Pakistan promote free enterprise and the highest standards of business conduct in a deregulated business environment. Legitimate private enterprise is an incalculably valuable asset for all nations through its contribution towards development, living standards and government revenues. It is essential that companies are able to operate on a level playing field."

But could now be the worst time for Pakistan to campaign to build up a brand?

Business leaders -- crucial in attracting investment and growing the economy -- are bemoaning recent political upheavals, believing the steady hand of President Pervez Musharraf has been good for the economy, "with steady growth, a rising stock market and substantial economic aid from the West," according to Forbes magazine.

Since Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, he has brought in billions of dollars in aid from the West, which sees his regime as a key ally in the fight against al Qaeda and Afghanistan's Taliban movement. Around $11 billion has come from the U.S. alone, according to Forbes.

The country's economy has expanded 7.5 percent annually over the last five years, but political concerns have kept some foreign investors away. Last year, Pakistan got $8.5 billion in foreign investment. In the run-up to the emergency, the stock markets had around 10 percent wiped off their value.

In a speech to the nation earlier this year, Musharraf said the recent rise in militancy was hurting foreign inflows, and investors were waiting on the sidelines to see if the situation would stabilize. But since his speech the situation has worsened.

There have been outbreaks of violence in the past few months over the overthrow of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's welcome home rally that killed 139 people and most recently, footage seen across the globe of police and government troops brutally suppressing civil dissent by lawyers and journalists in line with a virtual martial law imposed by the country's military. All this paints an unfavorable picture.

Sport has also been affected by fears of terrorism. International cricket teams have threatened to withdraw from touring because of fears of violence, while the shadow of corruption hung over the investigation of the death of Pakistani cricket coach Bob Woolmer.

The Association of Pakistani Professionals agrees the country has a negative brand and have formed a Branding Pakistan Project to formulate a strategy.

Dr Ishrat Hussain, ex-Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, summed up this problem: "At the moment, there is no brand called 'Pakistan'. What we do have are disjointed, largely negative, fragments of our country's attributes, which form the basis for the world's judgment ... these negative images are, unfortunately, ingrained in our own minds as well, hence making our task all that much more difficult.

"Recent geo-political and terrorist events have rendered this image all the more vulnerable."

He says the geo-political problems of Pakistan are "a given and (we must) work around it, rather than continue to wade in areas of controversy."

Adam Ferrier of Naked Communications says, "With country branding there are four key audiences; people who live there, tourists, and investors, with the entire global community being the fourth.

"Pakistan is already a very strong brand," says Ferrier. He says branders should concentrate on "the passion and sense of exuberance" and its mixture of "familiarity and unfamiliarity."

Business leaders agree though that through prosperity, there may be hope of peace. It is only then that leaders will be able to market and brand Pakistan with confidence. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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