Monday, 23 May 2011

India has never been and will never be an existential threat to Pakistan

In his interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr before his European tour, President Obama categorically pronounced that Pakistani army’s obsession with India arising from its belief that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan is a ‘mistake’ and that attitude needs to change. He referred to the enormous economic and trade benefits that Pakistan can reap by normalising ties with India.

It is a little secret that the rivalry between nuclear- armed India and Pakistan is potentially the most dangerous in the world. The fall out of a war between the two nations can not only have catastrophic consequences in the sub-continent, but will gravely endanger global security and economy.

It is, however, worth looking at things from the Indian perspective to explain why the Pakistani army’s claim of an existential threat from India is highly exaggerated. 

The conflict with Pakistan is centred on the Kashmir issue. It has had a serious impact on ordinary Kashmirs, but for the vast majority of Indians the issue has become a thorn in the path of their rapid economic development. For India, the conflict is about defending the borders from potential invasion from Pakistan and its strategic partner China. It has never been an aggressor in the three wars that it fought with Pakistan and one with China. Other than the Indian states, that share their borders with Pakistan, the rest of the country has little historical or cultural connection with Pakistan; so unless the national sentiments are provoked with acts of terror like the Mumbai attack in 2008, the thought of going to war doesn’t even cross public imagination.

India also has a massive and a chaotic democracy to manage with a host of internal security problems to tackle. Unlike the Pakistani intelligence and military, that often tries to give a jihadist angle to the issue; India on the other hand, with its secular credentials and a Muslim population bigger than that of Pakistan, sees the problem as a territorial issue. It has nothing to achieve by invading a neighbouring country that in economical and conventional military terms is no match to India.

It is also true that moderate Pakistanis harbour no antagonism against India. But in a country that is deeply rooted in an orthodox religious conservatism, it serves the Pakistani army well by projecting India as an enemy of Islam; or by poisoning the minds of the population by blaming India for their woes. The jihadist groups aided by the Pakistani army have systematically carried out a propaganda that blames India for the shortage of water in Pakistan. This is a dangerous trend. It is no wonder that when Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Asif found himself embroiled in spot fixing scandal in England in 2010, many in his village suspected an Indian hand in it!

The problem with Pakistan is that it is the army that calls the shots in regard to its strategic foreign policy. The Pakistani army is not just a military organisation but it also controls many lucrative businesses in Pakistan. The survival and dominance of the army largely depends in its ability to sustain its rivalry with India.  The Economist in an article ‘A rivalry that threatens the world’ quoted  M.J. Akbar, an eloquent Indian journalist and author of a new book on Pakistan. He blames the army, mostly, for ever more desperate decisions to preserve its dominance. “Pakistan is slipping into a set of contradictions that increasingly make rational behaviour hostage to the need for institutions to survive,” he says. (

Friday, 20 May 2011

Lessons on peace and democracy from Ireland and West Bengal

There have been three historic developments last week, which are distinctly unrelated, but provide strong lessons on democracy and peace.

The three events: the election result in India’s state of West Bengal- where the communists were ousted from power after 34 years of rule, the British Queen’s visit to Ireland, and a cautiously received speech by President Obama on Arab spring and Palestine –Israel issue; indicate how the societies in the world have evolved to become tolerant, politically conscious with growing desire for lasting peace and reconciliation. In fact, the first two events can provide valuable lessons to President Obama on how he intends to go about supporting and steering reforms in the Middle East.

The first lesson to be learnt is about democracy. President Obama in his speech yesterday acknowledged that the Iraq misadventure has showed that democracy cannot be imposed from outside. He is right. Democracy by very definition is a people’s movement. However, its long term sustainability and success as a form of governance depend on a number of factors. It is a gradual evolution of a system that is subjected to the maturity of the institutions that serve as the key pillars in upholding the values and ideals of the system. Fundamentally, it is also a system of trial and error. It thrives on political consciousness of the population that elects its leaders. The wisdom to exercise the franchise responsibly comes from the empowerment of masses through education and a change of outlook.

This is where West Bengal serves as a classic example. The defeat of the communists indicate that no matter how institutionally deeply rooted a party might be, in a democracy it can never conquer the minds of people, especially, if it is tainted by poor performance and has consistently failed to deliver on the basic needs of the population. Political enlightenment of masses comes with time. So when we preach democracy to the world, we need to be patient. President Obama’s pledge that America will promote and support movements for reform is commendable, but that support must be carried forward by successive American presidents. The idea should be to help these states build the institutions that will ensure a prosperous future for them, and allow them do it in their own cultural context.

The second is peace. This is where Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinians can take a leaf out of the British Queen’s visit to Ireland. The Queen’s visit to Ireland has a symbolic relevance to peace and more importantly a desire of the majority of the great Irish people to reconcile and put the history behind them.  Irish President Mary McAleese should be highly applauded for showing an exceptional courage by inviting the British monarch to Ireland. This shows that people are longer willing to be defined by the problems and issues of the 20th century or before that. We cannot be living in history, and the great people’s movement across the Middle East reinforce the same theme. People want change, freedom and peace. For the first time there is great opportunity for bringing around peace in one of the most disturbed areas in the world. This opportunity must not be squandered. The above events show that peace in this century will depend on the decisions we make today. Good luck to President Obama.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Events and media pitch

It is imperative for an event venue to have a good relationship with the press. Such relations are necessary to let people know about the upcoming events, internal management changes and to disclose other newsworthy stories that might be relevant to some sections of the media.

In recent years, the avenues for putting a story in the media has widened due to the emergence of social media. While traditional media is still the preferred choice for many stories, it has to be complemented with strategic use of social media.

Social media ensures a strong online presence. It allows instant engagement with the people who are present in the digital circle. However, for the event industry, the use of social media is a two step process. At one level, it is used for the promotion and broadcasting of interesting bits and pieces of news on a daily basis. At another level, it is used for following up news once it has been released in the main stream media. In fact, the use the word “social” in social media revolves around people, objective, strategies and technology. We need to understand the type of audience we are targeting. Do we want to use social media for wider engagement or marketing or both?  What strategies we want to adopt: do we want customers to help carry messages to others in the market or do you want them to be more engaged with the company?   Finally what technology we are going to use: it is a blog, tweet or any other relevant social media tool..

For the main stream media, the first step involves identifying the appropriate media outlet.  It is also very important to understand what event and trade journalists are looking for.

When pitching a story, it is important to consider the relevance and the timing of the story. A good journalist looks for stories that are unique and forward thinking so we must be clever. Most journalists rely on good relations to get the best stories. More often than not a journalist is likely to include a story from sources they personally know. For a journalist a known source is much more reliable as it helps them to get the information they need without having to wait. It is therefore imperative to have an excellent rapport with the journalists to be able to get your stories in the right place.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Why branding matters?

A few weeks back my company arranged to get a professional photo shoot for the members of staff and a client as part of their re-branding process. The photos were stunning. I posted my photos on Facebook, and it instantly attracted a lot of wonderful comments. I felt great to be admired for my ‘poster like’ looks and never before, apart from birthday wishes, have I received so many responses for posting something on Facebook.

This is a small example of how professional help can make you look better, and the responses it can entail. The same rule applies to brands. One reason it is essential for companies to have a great image both in terms of its brand and conduct is because people are increasingly passionate and hawkish (depending how they perceive each brand) about how they look and what they say.

Brands play a psychological role in influencing our selection of products.In many fast growing economies owning branded items is seen as a symbol of social status.  For some, brand represents a sense of association for something that he or she is passionate about. In many ways, brands though inanimate, share a space in our lives and interact in various ways through a medium of messages.

And it is precisely for this reason, the notion that companies have the same rights as ordinary people and therefore should be treated in the same manner as human beings has never been more powerful than it is now. For the last two centuries, this concept of corporate personhood has never gone beyond the boundaries of legal arbitration or caught the interest of common people. It was generally invoked where companies got caught up in legal entanglements that invariably brought into question what companies can or cannot do as virtual entities, but with the same right to free speech as flesh and blood people.
The emergence of social media changed all that. Brands are increasingly coming under public scrutiny, and as the BP experience showed last year, there can be serious fallout if they don’t handle their public relations well.

The premise of the debate is clear: corporates can no longer behave as an elitist citizen and remain aloof from the interests of their consumers.  If the companies can take up residence in dozens of countries at once (which most real people can’t) and have other privileges, they should also be held accountable for their actions.

Clearly, brands need to be more creative not in the way they look but also the way they speak across the range of media platforms. Touching the heart and minds of people is a great way of engaging with the consumers.  A good specialist PR strategy can not only help a brand to become a corporate citizen but a corporate statesman.