Does Pakistan need soft power

The contemporary world is shifting its focus from hard power to soft power. All developed countries are now paying special attention towards building their soft power. Britain, USA, China and Russia; all big states are concentrating on soft power, along with hard power, since long. Pakistan also needs to spot on its soft power seriously. Since 9/11, Pakistan’s image has been badly tarnished despite many positive things at the country’s credit. The unfortunate part is the western portrayal of Pakistan which is negative and very discouraging. Neglecting the importance of soft power can be viewed as a major reason for such notorious depiction of the country’s image. Pakistan is in dire need to promote its soft power in order to alter its tarnished image internationally.

The term ‘soft power,’ coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye Jr., gained currency in the 1990s and is now widely used in international affairs. ‘Soft power’ is the ability to seduce, persuade and convince through values that mankind holds dear: democracy, art, culture, human rights, welfare, good governance and societal harmony. Nye differentiates between two types of power: ‘Hard power’ is ‘the ability to get others to act in ways that are contrary to their initial preferences and strategies’ On the contrary, ‘soft power’ is the ability to get ‘others to want the outcomes that you want’ and more particularly, ‘the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion’. Finally, Nye introduces ‘smart power’ fusing both hard and soft power. Nye does not reject the realist paradigm, which focuses on military power, but thinks that a discreet combination will make a country vibrant and internationally credible.

Soft power is sometimes more useful than hard power. Indeed, complex issues, for which the use of military instruments only would be inefficient, are more likely to be resolved through the use of soft power. A country’s soft power rests on three resources: its culture; and its political values and foreign policies when others see them as legitimate. Through the use of this form of power, nations can act multilaterally, rather than unilaterally. This cherished power is reflected in the culture, political values and foreign policies of developing countries. Besides that it should also be visible in the economic policies and educational strategies of a country. Soft power helps make a country’s political and cultural policies attractive. The use of soft power by a nation state gives it psychic confidence by raising its international image, and leads to enhanced interactions in international organizations, and cultural, trade and other cooperation.

‘Soft power’ as embodied in influence of culture and arts is as old as history: the Greek, Roman, Iranian, Indian and Ottoman empires all manifested this influence on others. US, Great Britain, France and Russia also radiated a ‘soft power’ effect in their dominated territories. Islamic societies such as the Abbasids and then Spanish Moors in their heydays exhibited ‘soft power’, but over a period of time, this dwindled through political enfeeblement. This has caused poverty of thought, anti-intellectualism and lack of creative dynamism in many Muslim societies.

But, why the ‘soft power’ is generally lacking in the Islamic world and, ipso facto, in Pakistan? In Pakistan’s context, soft power was more evident in the 1960s and 1970s when the country presented an image of a moderate, progressive Islamic welfare state. Pakistan then had a better economy, held development models for others, had a hardworking, friendly workforce abroad and attracted foreign investments; it was a place for foreign tourists; possessed good universities; civil institutions, better educational levels and skilful diplomats. However since the 1980s, the situation has steadily declined with the country succumbing to forces of militancy and radicalism. Regional developments such as invasions of neighbouring Afghanistan by two superpowers (Soviet Union and USA) and the festering Kashmir dispute with India have taken their toll. More importantly, the average myopic leaderships lacked vision to nurture overall national interests through ‘soft power’ and instead obsessed over the security state paradigm.

A report by the Islamabad Institute of Policy Research reads: “The western media has been highlighting only those things where the image of Pakistan could be tarnished and has been vociferous in demanding more, the ‘do-more syndrome’. This is partly due to the fact that governments in Pakistan have seldom given importance to soft power and image building process of the nation. Pakistan needs to promote its domestic and international performance to alter its image in the eyes of foreign media.” Successive Pakistani governments focused on promoting soft image of the country from time to time but it has never been one of their top priorities.

Many countries are shifting their focus from hard to soft power and it is becoming their top concern. USA is worried as China is beating it in economic field. Japan is dominating in the field of technology. Russia is also making soft power its top priority. In other words, a race to win in the field of soft power has already begun in the world. Pakistan too needs to create a balance between soft power and hard power in such a way that it doesn’t have to depend on hard power alone. Softer techniques should be adopted in order to solve out different internal and external issues.

Pakistan’s soft power should reflect in its cultural, political and foreign policies. Besides that, education and tourism are also very important tools to promote the soft image in front of the whole world. Pakistan is a multicultural and pluralistic country and it can project its culture in a very diverse and effective way. Pakistan has abundant talent in every field. The soft power can flourish in Pakistan immensely provided that a little more attention is paid toward it. Media is without any doubt a major tool to depict and show, convince and help to form a particular point of view and public consensus. It should use its media to promote its culture and tourism worldwide.

In short, Pakistan’s quest for soft image requires simultaneous improvement on multi-pronged fronts: political, economic and cultural. Good public diplomacy works but propaganda is insufficient; it needs to be based on solid facts in order to be credible. Countries need resources to divert energy from other pursuits. And those with chronic security issues find it hard to easily cultivate soft images. These are created through public diplomacy by effective broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief, donor conferences, exhibitions, films, road shows and sports activities. Moreover, international honors and awards, attracting foreign students, international conferences, new research and patents are always useful.

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