'Manicured and choreographed' - S'pore in the eyes of former Pakistani envoy

SINGAPORE - "Manicured and choreographed" was how Pakistan's former high commissioner to Singapore, Dr Sajjad Ashraf, described the country to a compatriot in 2004 when he arrived here to start his four-year posting.

"Real progress can only take place with synchronised action. A good choreographer is able to draw the best out of the performers," he wrote in the book The Little Red Dot Volume III: Reflections by Foreign Diplomats on Singapore, which was launched on Thursday.

Citing ballets and military parades, he said: "The choreography and the manicured performers enthral people. With its ambitions and achievements Singapore enthrals the world.

"A choreographer cannot allow one misstep, otherwise the performance becomes sloppy," he added. "This is how I see the leadership here performing and taking the country to its 'manicured' levels."

Dr Ashraf, now adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and associate fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, concluded: "The Singapore story can only be felt by living amongst its people, by sensing its effervescence, self-confidence and its evolving identity."

His essay in the book is among 61 contributions from former envoys of 43 countries, including nine Asean nations.

Minister of Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam, speaking at the book launch in the National Library on Thursday, said Dr Ashraf's story "underscored the complexity of state-society relations".

He added: "Because we have lived in the rhythm of this 'choreography' all our lives, it is not always apparent in our daily hustle and bustle - though we should always remember - that the contribution of every citizen keeps that rhythm going."

The book is the third in The Little Red Dot series, with the first and second volumes showing Singapore's development through the eyes of its own diplomats.

Published by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and World Scientific Publishing, the new volume is priced at $39.60 (with GST) and will be available at major bookstores from Friday.