Tuesday Apr 03, 2018
"Oh would some power the gift give us,
To see ourselves as others see us."
—Robert Burns, 18th century Scottish poet
Every individual has a certain perception of himself/herself. We like to believe that this is how we are also seen by others. It usually involves how good we look, how smart we are, and how strong is our character compared to others that we like to compare ourselves with. But rarely can anyone perceive himself/herself as others see him/her. More often than not, it comes as a rude surprise thrown by life when we are made aware of how differently others see us.
Same is true for countries. People in every country have some perception of their homeland, shaped by popular narratives and a mix of pride and patriotism. But unlike individuals, countries are regularly studied and ranked by international think-tanks.
There is no way of escaping this reality check.
In today’s world, there is a range of indexes which have become the world’s performance indicators. These indexes usually focus on key economic, social, and environmental indexes and rank most countries every few years. They include Human Development Index, Global Competitiveness Index, Ease of Doing Business Index, Environmental Performance Index, Global Terrorism Index, Global Gender Gap Index, and World Press Freedom index. Often when their rankings hit the news headlines, they come as a rude surprise for many citizens who expect to see their country ranked much higher. But propaganda and patriotism are no substitute for national performance.
It is true that these global performance indexes are imperfect. Our world is enormously complex, the data underlying these indexes is not the same as facts, and at the end of the day assumptions are just that: assumptions. But there is never going to be a perfect index on which all countries and people would agree. Rather than disputing the need for the index and its methodology, we can benefit from what it tells us about us and about others.
It will also be helpful if these indexes are not used as a tool for political point scoring. It is indeed tempting to look at how far down Pakistan is ranked and blame it all on recent governments. On the other hand, a government may be keen to take credit for random favourable changes in ranks that could happen without any contribution by them.
With that said, I would urge readers to take this 10-question quiz to see how you perceive Pakistan and then compare that with how these global indexes rank us: