“Potential of Pakistan’s Soft Power and Public Diplomacy”
A one-day workshop on “Potential of Pakistan’s Soft Power and Public Diplomacy” was organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) on October 19, 2016 at Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence and Defence Production and Parliamentary Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, was the Chief Guest of the workshop. Three papers were presented, followed by a discussion session. A select group of experts from the academia and media participated in the workshop. Different views on “Potential of Pakistan’s Soft Power and Public Diplomacy” were expressed. The aim of the workshop was to generate the thought process and come up with answers to the following questions:
- What is soft power and public diplomacy and how do these two impact foreign policy?
- Has Pakistan enough potential for soft power?
- What are the challenges and problems of soft power projection in Pakistan?
- How to project Pakistan’s soft power?
- Where does Pakistan stand in the arena of public diplomacy?
- What could Pakistan learn from the best practices of other states in terms of soft power and public diplomacy?
Traditionally, the hard power remained one of the basic tools of foreign policy projection around the world. However, after the end of the “Cold War” and due to the process of globalization and information revolution, the term “soft power” started gaining momentum as it reflects peaceful application of power. The soft power could be termed as an ability of nation to project its positive aspects abroad. Coined by an American political scientist Indus valley civilization, Jr. in the late 1980s, the expression soft power is the capacity of a nation to convince the others to do what it requires them to do without the use of hard power or compulsion. It is broadly conjured in foreign policy debates around the world. Nye contends that successful modern states need both hard and soft force to constrain others and also the capacity to shape their long haul attitudes and preferences. Nye defines soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment”, that includes “culture, values and foreign policies.” Later, Nye extended his definition into “the ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading, and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain preferred outcomes.” Overall, “soft power” with all its positive dividends seems to be a good concept but it has been reduced to a mere intellectual debate only as far as developing or less developed countries are concerned.
Alongside soft power, the modern world has experienced yet another concept, i.e. “public diplomacy”, which was coined in the mid-1960s by former US diplomat Edmund Gullion. It supplements, compliments, and augments traditional diplomacy through private individuals and groups and includes communication with governments and more so with non-governmental people and associations/organizations of foreign states. It serves to advance the national interests of a state through comprehension, understanding, informing, and influencing the foreign audiences. Actually, public diplomacy is an instrument of soft power and it is used by the states in projecting their image according to their capacity. Public diplomacy includes such activities as educational exchange programs for scholars and students; visitor programs; language training; cultural events and exchanges; and radio and television broadcasting. Such activities usually focus on improving the image of the “sending” country as a way to shape a wider acceptance in the “receiving” country.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan has been suffering from an image problem despite having many positives to its credit. This is partly due to the fact that Pakistan has seldom given importance to building soft power and image of the nation. Pakistan, notwithstanding its rich historical and cultural heritage, has not been able to attract world’s attention. The key to counter the negative narratives about Pakistan is through soft power. A country becomes attractive when it has values that other states admire and wish to emulate. Pakistan does have both hard and soft power. The question is when, why, and how diplomats or decision makers choose application of soft power over hard power or a mix of the two, i.e. smart power. The elements of Pakistan’s national power such as economy, geography, military, nuclear power, diplomacy, governance and leadership, resilience, agriculture and other natural resources, population and demography, religion, information technology, etc., have enormous potential for growth, which can enormously supplement its efforts to enhance its soft power. These elements of national power have to be recognized, developed, and integrated as without cohesion and integration, these elements would remain under-utilized.
Pakistan is a multi-cultural society having extremely diverse and appealing cultures. Projection of cultural diversity through media can portray a softer image of Pakistan. Pakistan is home to a rich and world’s oldest civilizations, i.e. Gandhara and Indus valley (Mohen-jo-Daro). It is home and was a gateway of some of the world’s main religions, i.e. Islam and Budhism. It is rich in tourism, which stretches from the mighty Karakoram in the North to the vast alluvial delta of the Indus River in the South. Pakistan is home to numerous peaks above 7,000 meters. Pakistan is endowed with a rich and varied flora and fauna. Mighty Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindukush ranges with their alpine meadows and permanent snow line, coniferous forests down the sub-mountain scrub, the vast Indus plain merging into the great desert, the coast line and wetlands. For tapping tourism industry to its full potential, law and order situation needs to be improved. Pakistan has done wonders in sports, i.e. cricket, hockey, squash, and snooker. The country has a flourishing and thriving think tank culture, which can engage their counterparts globally. The country has a vibrant media and evolving civil society. Pakistani diaspora is spread all over the world.
Pakistan has important strategic endowments and development potential. Strategically, Pakistan stands at the cross-roads of Central, South, and West Asia thus is the fulcrum of a regional market with a vast population, large and diverse resources, and untapped potential for trade. Its economy has enormous potential to become one of the fastest developing economies of the world. Likewise, the “MSCI’s emerging markets index” has termed it as world’s one of the emerging markets of the future. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brightened the prospects of economic development. Pakistan has a youth bulge and a good size of human capital/working-age population. Pakistan, at the same time, has to make efforts in further attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).
Pakistan’s educational institutions have produced some of the best qualified professionals in the world, including doctors, engineers, bankers, financiers, and entrepreneurs. It has higher educational institutions, which often rank in world’s top five hundred institutes. Pakistan’s democracy is gaining deeper roots and state institutions are evolving a system of checks and balance. Pakistan’s armed forces are not only the defenders of its borders but have fought terrorism bravely and contributed towards world peace by sending peacekeepers to the United Nations (UN) missions. They have also assisted in disaster relief, humanitarian relief, and infrastructure development.
At a time when Pakistan’s foreign policy is confronted with many challenges (both internal and external), the country needs to project and advance its softer image through all available means (traditional and non-traditional). Pakistan needs to promote its domestic and international performance to alter its image in the eyes of foreign media. As a fact of the matter, Pakistan has not been able to project its soft power like India did. India, with all its negatives, i.e. rising intolerance towards minorities, poverty, corruption, etc., has been using its yoga and Bollywood in projecting its softer side to the world. As discussed earlier, Pakistan has huge potential for exercising soft power and using public diplomacy. The conditions for projecting soft power have changed drastically as of late. The information revolution and globalization are changing and contracting the world where transnational corporations and non-governmental actors play larger roles. Likewise, as mentioned earlier that Pakistan has a vibrant electronic media and civil society, which could project its image outside through highlighting its actual potential. Care has to be taken while using public diplomacy as it is not propaganda or lobbying but open and frank disposition of Pakistan’s actual potentials. Public diplomacy in Pakistan’s case should be considered as promoting and branding the country abroad effectively through media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), economic subjects, individuals, civil society, etc.
In this backdrop, the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) organized one-day workshop on “Potential of Pakistan’s Soft Power and Public Diplomacy” at Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad on October 19, 2016.
In his welcome address, Ambassador Sohail Amin, President IPRI, greeted the chief guest, chair of the sessions, speakers and the discussants. He said that in the contemporary world, the focus was shifting from hard to soft power and public diplomacy. Different countries used soft and hard power in different ways and the best results were obtained when both were aligned and supplemented each other through smart power. Alongside soft power, the modern world was also focusing on “Public Diplomacy”. It augmented the traditional diplomacy through private individuals and groups including communication with governments; non-governmental associations/organizations; individuals of foreign states. It served to advance the national interests of a state through understanding, informing, and influencing the foreign audience. The public diplomacy as an instrument of soft power was being used by the states in projecting their image according to their capacity.
Explaining the potential of soft power, he mentioned that Pakistan was a multi-cultural society having extremely diverse and appealing cultures. Its geography was unique. Pakistan had a distinction to be located in a distinct part of the world where civilizations had met. Pakistan was home to world’s oldest civilizations, i.e. Gandhara and Indus valley (Mohen-jo-Daro), It was a gateway of some of the world’s main religions, i.e. Islam and Buddhism. He added that it had rich tourism potential, which stretched from the mighty Himalayas, Hindukush and Karakoram in the North to the vast alluvial delta of the Indus River in the South. Pakistan was home to numerous peaks above 7,000 meters. Pakistani diaspora all around the world had been doing a great job. Pakistanis had received “Nobel Prizes.” Democratic institutions had been taking roots in the country. It had a sizeable youth bulge and a vibrant media and civil society. Pakistan’s successes in curtailing terrorism had been incredible and exemplary. When it came to sports, Pakistan had done wonders in cricket, hockey, squash, and snooker. He emphasized that since soft power and public diplomacy had acquired strategic significance in recent times, Pakistan needed to spot on its soft power. In this regard, there was a need to develop a sound policy to advance Pakistan’s soft picture through media, tourism, literature, art, information technology, music, theater, and effective public diplomacy. Pakistan had boundless things, which could be utilized to brighten the image of the nation.
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence and Defence Production and Parliamentary Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, in his inaugural address as a Chief Guest, said that the strength of soft power emerged from a country’s civil society and its people and not from the government. The Pakistani nation needed to let go of its defeatist mentality. Almost all battles, the nation faced in life, were won or lost in it’s the minds of its people. He pointed out that Pakistan needed a rapid response ideas and issues crafted on the basis of facts, logic and wisdom in order to revamp its global image. Quoting from Jinnah’s famous Life magazine interview, he said that the Quaid knew decades ago that Pakistan would be the pivot around which world politics would revolve. And now that was indeed proven to be the reality. He briefly enumerated about his recent trip to Washington, as Special Envoy of the Prime Minister on Jammu & Kashmir, the Senator highlighted that the trip included extensive meetings with think tanks, officials of the US State Department and exclusive media interactions with both American and Indian media as well as the Kashmiri and Pakistani diaspora. Besides, he stated that the national narrative and sentiments of the people of Pakistan towards Kashmir issue were presented with facts, logic and wisdom. He further highlighted that this was the first time in the Kashmiri struggle when the extra judicial killing of young Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani had led to a popular, indigenous, spontaneous, and widespread freedom movement in the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK). The 2017 should be the year of ‘decisions’ for Pakistan, which provided a window of opportunity for presenting its case on Kashmir to the international community. He listed these opportunities in this respect: First, the UN had finally agreed to a fact finding mission to Kashmir. Second, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had acknowledged that the Kashmir issue is of critical nature. Third, the Indian Prime Minister Modi had overplayed his hand and it had backfired on his home land vis-à-vis the BRICS meeting. He highlighted that Pakistan had a strong Kashmir case that needed to be highlighted to the international community.
Mr. Tahir Mehmood, Editor Hilal Magazine, in his presentation on “Identifying Sources, Potential and Problems of Pakistan’s Soft Power” quoted the political scientist Joseph S. Nye who in 2004 described “soft power as the ability to get the outcomes by attracting rather than coercing others”. He said that the sources used to persuade others were: culture, domestic policies and values, and substance, tactics, and style of foreign policy. He added that Pakistan’s image had not been rightly projected. In order to improve its image Pakistan will have to go a long way. He said that in such a complex world, Pakistan must be cognizant of the world around and all the means to enhance its influence to ensure survival and progress. He highlighted that the percentage of self-defeating domestic narratives was alarming. Pakistan’s soft power must influence others to believe in a safe, secure and peaceful Pakistan. He was of the view that Pakistan’s immediate source of soft power stemmed from hard power. He emphasized that Pakistan should project itself as a resilient nation. He added that Pakistan’s successful operations against terrorists of all hue and colour, the revision of peace and stability and well-guarded nuclear programme were signs of Pakistan’s soft power. He said, “Pakistan’s army is both professional and peaceful with a long list of sacrifices and its role in UN peace keeping”. He said that the world has much to learn from Pakistan in peace keeping and fighting terrorism. He stressed the need of formulating a well-calibrated strategy for Pakistan to project its soft power. He said that the use of soft power should be a policy tool then mere projection of a soft image. Pakistani diaspora, human capital including vibrant youth and skilled manpower, and media could be sources of enhancing soft image of country in the world.
Dr. Moeed Pirzada, political analyst, TV anchor, and columnist presented a paper on “Pakistan’s image abroad: How to balance soft with hard power?” He pointed out that Pakistan’s image abroad was not good. He said that one cannot deny that Pakistan has problems, but then so do other countries, including India with its shocking rape and poverty statistics; and even America”. He added that the narrative on Pakistan from its very creation had fundamentally been crafted by the Indian intelligentsia and was projected through its foreign policy, movies, books and lobbies. The strategy used by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to malign Pakistan was also formulated by the Indian intelligentsia. Though the West had no reason to be against Pakistan but after 9/11, the US had also joined this bandwagon. This was done for one reason alone: that both India and the US wanted to have unrestrained access to the Central Asian states without bargaining. Some of the themes India was employing to project its soft image were: non-align movement, Hindutva ideology and shining India. He opined that Pakistan’s response to Indian propaganda had been weak. He said that the FO’s focus should be on an audience that may be receptive to our message, like Africa and the Middle East rather than the US and the UK. At least those posted in these regions should know and understand Arabic language in order to socialize, network and interact. The engagement focus is very important. Pakistan has to engage the world over the issues. Turks and Chinese like Pakistan and support its stance over Kashmir issue, because, Pakistan has a receptive policy for the issues of these countries. He said that greater vision was needed to turn things around. He suggested that the government should sponsor thematic documentaries and movies on Sufism; the Swat operation; defeat of the TTP; the reforms package in Balochistan; and even produce authentic works on the history of East Pakistan.
Ambassador (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi, Chairman, Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad, presented a paper on “Investing in Public Diplomacy: Ways and Means.” He said that Pakistan was down in the credibility graph in 2006. He added that there was a need for Pakistan to seek credibility and improve its image internationally. Narrative is shaped by the others and the global powers behave as they want to do. He said that Pakistan had been maligned by the west and Pakistan needed expertise to apply smart power to project its image correctly. He said that lobbyists could not deliver unless they were familiar and also sympathetic to a country’s situation. All global powers, including the US, should not be taken as friends. The world powers shape narratives according to their interests which can be both ruthless and generous at various times. The old word to influence others was “propaganda” but now countries talk about public diplomacy. In addition to public diplomacy, a novel term, new public diplomacy has emerged after the incident of 9/11. With the vast resources of media, today the opportunities to project Pakistan’s policies and narratives are immense; therefore, Pakistan should make best use of these resources and opportunities. Further, Pakistan should learn the art of dealing with global powers. He added: “One needs to tread carefully under elephant’s feet to avoid being crushed”. While accepting the fact that the FO needed more expertise in the traditional as well as public diplomacy, he emphasized that language training of diplomats should be given top priority. He explained that exploring and exporting the diversity of Pakistan’s culture and investment in public diplomacy were the means to project its soft power while lack of intellect and innovation in employing smart power remained a challenge.
In his concluding remarks, Lt. General (R) Asif Yasin Malik, former Secretary of Defense, said that the people of Pakistan were the main source of the soft power in the country and abroad but this segment of society had been neglecting by the political elite since 1947. Explaining the potential of Pakistan’s soft power, he stated that Indus Civilization, Mohen-jo-Daro, Taxila, Pakistani arts and crafts, engineering universities, medical colleges and other educational institutions, etc. were the essential ingredients of Pakistani soft powers in which the government should not only invest but also to project them at international level. He pointed out that in Western societies; barbecue was a famous food, which was considered as a part of Indian cuisine, in fact, it was not Indian food since Indians were vegetarian. Rather, barbecue was a Pakistani or Muslim food, which came from Central Asia that needed to be highlighted. He said that we have not been able to project Pakistan’s image correctly. Illuminating the potential of Pakistani tourism industry, he mentioned that the country had a rich tourism especially in the area of spiritual tourism (Buddhist and Sikhs’ religious places) but Pakistan was weak in projecting its tourism industry in true sense. He recommended that Pakistan’s policy makers should develop domestic tourism, which would help in attracting the foreign tourists. He emphasized that Pakistan needed perception management for the projection of its true image through marketing its soft power. The country also needed to promote its soft image through media, tourism, literature, art and painting, information technology, music and theatre.
The discussants who offered their comments at the workshop included:
- Ambassador (R) Fauzia Nasreen, Member BoG IPRI and Head, Department of Centre for Policy Studies, COMSATS, Islamabad
- Noman Sattar, Assistant Professor, Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad.
- Sajid Awan, Former Director and Senior Research Fellow, National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (NIHCR), Centre of Excellence, Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad.
- Mujeeb Afzal, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
- Salma Malik, Assistant Professor, Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
- Ghazanfer Ali Garewal, Lecturer, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.
- Raza Khan, Special Correspondent, Pakistan Television (PTV), Islamabad
The salient points by the discussants are as under:
- Unfortunately, Pakistan carries the image of militancy and terrorism. It is because of sheer and well organized propaganda of Indian intellectuals. Since 9/11, India had tried to present Pakistan and al Qaeda as one entity in front of international community, which distorted the image of the country. Pakistan’s efforts of projecting its sacrifices and soft image have not created the desired impact at international level. It needs to extensively improve the means of projecting its image abroad.
- Clarity of objectives and consensus over approaches to achieve those objectives is vital in soft power promotion. Pakistan needs to improve in both areas.
- Internal conflicts as well as external propaganda by the hostile countries are tarnishing Pakistan’s image. Therefore, policy makers should utilize resources on both fronts for projection of soft power.
- Pakistan needs to invest in human resource development as it could be the most effective tool to project Pakistan’s image abroad. For this purpose, quality education is vital for the development of human resource.
- Financial disbursements in other countries often help in projection of one’s case. For instance, the US had immensely spent money in Iran for the projection of its stance over nuclear proliferation.
- Information technology also plays an important role in shaping minds of the public. Hence, Pakistan needs to heavily invest in IT sector.
- Pakistan is custodian of world’s first university which was established in Taxila. Pakistan should project its Indus valley civilization at international arena. It would be helpful in projecting soft image of the country.
- Pakistani people should take pride in their own culture and language etc. A culture or narrative of self-pride and pride over the culture and Indus valley civilization should be promoted at national level.
- Establishment of centres in universities for regions and countries should be encouraged. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former Prime Minister, had established 29 study centres during his era. Establishment of such centres helps in enhancing good relations with other countries.
- In international politics, there are always three types of countries, i.e. friendly states, neutral states, and hostile states. Pakistan needs to invest in youth of friendly and neutral countries, so, that the future generations may remain immune to Indian propaganda against Pakistan.
- Soft power cannot do anything without hard financial resources. A strong and developing economy can serve better interest of the nation at international forums.
- Knowledge and economy are two main variables in execution of soft power. A well-organized linkage of government, education sector, diaspora and industry can promote Pakistan’s image at international arena.
- There is a need to establish a trilateral linkage among three sectors, i.e. education, think tanks and industry. This linkage will help in generating new ideas and innovations, which ultimately would contribute to projection of soft power.
- Role of private media has remained negative for past many years in the country. The media needs to care for positive projection of Pakistan’s image abroad.
- A role of proactive engagement with the host country by Pakistani embassies and high commissions is vital for execution of soft power.
- Soft power emanates from the people of Pakistan and Pakistani society. This is the basic rule that has to be focused on to enhance the soft power of Pakistan. There are multiple power centers in this country and the civil society needs to be empowered to a level where it can promote Pakistan’s soft power. Creativity and dynamism of Pakistanis need to be harnessed by enhancing interaction with the civil societies of other states.
- Historically, due to Pakistan’s vulnerable position vis-à-vis India, Pakistan has invested heavily in building hard or military power and unfortunately soft power as an instrument of policy has not been used effectively. In view of the vast resource potential that Pakistan has, to acquire soft power, we recommend that Pakistan should endeavor to introduce the requisite balance between soft and hard power and invest on priority to improve its international image.
- Indian Prime Minister Modi’s adventurism is auspicious for Pakistan, as it can be taken as an opportunity to demonstrate how Pakistan’s strategic thinking is more mature and contrasts the current mindset in India. And this should be done by engaging major think tanks, media outlets and other opinion makers in the world.
- The narrative on the nature of South Asia needs to be modified. Countries in Central Asia are a part of the greater South Asia and Pakistan has a pivotal position in that region. Pakistan has been blessed with remarkable geographic location that it has not utilized so far to become a regional link. However, there is an emerging understanding that regional connectivity will accrue huge economic dividends for Pakistan and create lasting cultural linkages. The CPEC will play a central role in crystallizing the vision of regional connectivity.
- Pakistan is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations, a gateway to different religions, it has huge tourism potential, which can be capitalized on to enhance Pakistan’s soft image. The cultural linkages that the spiritual tourism can develop between India and Pakistan will be lasting and may become a catalyst for peace. Similarly, the wonders that Humans of New York like phenomena can do for Pakistan is beyond what Pakistanis themselves can achieve by enumerating the virtues of our geography, culture and society.
- There is a need for rapid response to emerging issues, such as negative projection of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, terrorism, Kashmir issue, Afghanistan etc., and craft new ideas based on logic and reason.
- Internationally, there is a battle for airwaves. There is an American CCTV and Russia Today, and three different Pashto services of Voice of America, which shows the significance, even the big countries attach to influencing the opinions of a common man. Pakistani actors are making their mark in India, and this holds huge prospects for the growth of both Pakistani media and its outreach. Pakistani media should be developed to be able to take Pakistani narrative and culture out in the world.
- For lobbying, professional and knowledgeable persons, having favorable view of Pakistan, be hired for projection of Pakistan’s perspective on various issues of its national interest.
- Pakistan should learn the art of dealing with global powers to make its way without having any confrontation. Credibility of the national narrative and training of young diplomats along modern lines is also critical.
- In order to improve Pakistan’s image, there is need to invest in education, health, and environment to improve its ranking in the human development global index.
- Films, novels, and documentaries play a critical role in image building. Although Pakistan has many positive and success stories such as Pakistan Armed Forces’ role in the UN peace keeping, defeat of the TTP in Swat and FATA operations but these stories are not projected properly. Pakistan’s narrative on 1971 tragedy is missing and the Indian and Bangladeshi narratives are full of lies. The government should sponsor thematic documentaries and movies on Sufism; the Swat operation; defeat of the TTP; the reforms package in Balochistan; and even produce authentic works on the East Pakistan history. There is a need to strengthen and enhance the capacity of external publicity wing of ministry of information and other relevant organizations. Innovative strategies/programmes are required to meet the imperatives of projecting Pakistan’s soft power in the changing regional and global scenarios. In this respect well-coordinated and integrated efforts by different ministries such as foreign affairs, information, cultural and tourism development would be required.
- To communicate Pakistan’s perspective in different countries, especially in the Middle East, the cultural and defence attaché’s should learn the Arabic language so that they can effectively communicate and explain Pakistan’s point of view in these countries. Special programmes/courses for foreign language learning should be offered to the concerned officials selected as cultural/defence attaché.
- Knowledge and economy are two main variables in execution of soft power. A well-organized linkage of government, education sector, diaspora and industry can promote Pakistan’s image at international arena.
- In Pakistan R & D system is weak, there is a need to invest more in R & D and integrate it with industry and academia locally and with research institutions globally.
- The promotion of domestic tourism is prerequisite to attract foreign tourists; therefore, Pakistan government should develop domestic tourism by improving infrastructure and providing facilities.
- Pakistan’s image is shaped by the writings of Indian and Western scholars who are regularly contributing in the international news papers and journals. Pakistani scholars should be encouraged to contribute in foreign media and journals and Pakistan Chairs in foreign universities should be made effective by appointing competent persons from Pakistan.
- Pakistan’s first priority should be to put its own house in order only then it can effectively pursue its foreign policy goal abroad.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and discussants and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.