Significance of Public and Cultural Diplomacy as an Instrument of Soft Power

WORLD TIMES At the Department of Defence and Diplomatic Studies,Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU), Rawalpindi

Under the aegis of Jahangir’s World Times a discussion forum ‘Significance of Public and Cultural Diplomacy as an Instrument of Soft Power’ was held at the Department of Defence & Diplomatic Studies (DDS), FJWU, Rawalpindi. The discussion was chaired by the head of the department, Dr Saima Ashraf Kayani, while the faculty member, Mr Rizwan, acted as the moderator. A number of students along with the faculty members shared their valuable and well-grounded views on the topic. The arguments presented were logical, convincing and profound. Besides elaborating and expounding the concept and the proactive usage of public and cultural diplomacy, they also highlighted the use of such policy by India as an image-building tool and deplorable passiveness of Pakistan on this front. They urged the policy makers of Pakistan to utilise our rich and diverse culture as an effective tool of diplomacy to present the positive image of Pakistan to the contemporary world.

The discussion was started by Ms Faryal Saeed. Advocating the concept of public and cultural diplomacy, she said, ‘Public diplomacy is a process to establish a dialogue or communication with the foreign public in order to inform and influence the bilateral relationship between two countries. In fact, it provides a foreign policy complement apart from the traditional government-to-government communication which is officially dominated by professional diplomats. Actually, public diplomacy is one of the recognised key instruments of ‘soft power’. During the cold war era, the two arch rivals– the US and the Soviet Union — also heavily invested in the public diplomacy in order to expand their respective sphere of influence. Now, the cultural diplomacy can be defined as the utilisation of culture by a nation to influence and attract foreign countries particularly for achieving goals of the foreign policy as well as to project a soft image of the nation. It is also an enunciation of cultural exchanges aimed at a long-term socio-political relationship with foreign nations especially to pursue the national interest of the country.’

Another student of the DDS Ms Asma Salman said if the phenomenon of public and cultural diplomacy is not new. In fact, the United States had been practicing this diplomacy even before the World War II and other nations like France, UK and India also use public diplomacy quite effectively to pursue their national interests. Moreover, China also embraced the concept of public and cultural diplomacy in 2007. For this purpose, China focused, particularly, on South Asia and took introduced a number of measures in this regard. For instance, the Chinese premier inaugurated the Confucius Institute at National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad. In addition, our government also announced the Chinese language courses in schools from 2013 which is indeed a reciprocation of Chinese public diplomacy initiative. In the present scenario, Pakistan must enhance its public and cultural diplomacy initiatives especially towards its neighbours.

Another student Zernish Javed opined ‘In Pakistan, we do not have any proper structure of public and cultural diplomacy. However, there are some individuals who participate in or conduct this diplomacy at their own. Much work was done on it during the rule of Gen Musharraf although, this was initiated much earlier. Pakistan embarked upon public diplomacy in form of ‘Citizen Diplomacy’.

Ms Madiha Amber spoke differently. She said, ‘Youth is the backbone of any nation and we cannot neglect its role in the sphere of public diplomacy. ‘Youth Exchange Programme’ is an encouraging initiative by Pakistan. But the real problem lies in that people, being unaware of this programme, are unable to participate.’

The next speaker, Ms Saba Javed said, ‘Historically, the cultural diplomacy was present in India even in 13th and 14th centuries. Later, after partition, India established ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) to establish and strengthen her cultural ties with foreign countries. Unfortunately, due to lack of such institutions in Pakistan, we lag far behind in this field despite having a diverse culture and rich cultural heritage. However, the campaign ‘Aman Ki Aasha’, launched by two prominent media groups of India and Pakistan, for public and cultural interaction is a welcome step and an omen of better bilateral relations of both neighbours.’ Ms Sidra Akram highlighted the influence of Indian TV serials on Pakistani society and said, ‘Indian TV channels promote their cultural and religious values through their dramas. Gone are the days when TV drama was our identity not only in South Asia but in the whole world. Alas! We lost our pride. Realistically speaking we could have used our dramas for cultural leverage but we could not. India is doing successfully in which we have miserably failed.’

Ms Amira Sarfraz stressed the need of some mechanism at government level in order to institutionalise all the endeavours in this sphere. ‘No doubt, drama and films are the best tools of cultural diplomacy but we are not utilising them according to their strengths,’ she said.

However, Ms Maria Ayub highlighted another aspect of Indian cultural diplomacy. She said, ‘Admittedly, India has a wide and diverse culture. A number of cultural festivals, celebrated annually, play an important role in Indian cultural diplomacy. Former Indian premier, Indra Gandhi, launched a series of programmes ‘Festivals of India’ to promote Indian culture. Today, Indian festivals have got international fame and project the soft image of their nation.’

Provides a foreign policy complement apart from the traditional government-to-government communication which is officially dominated by professional diplomats.
The last speaker, Ms Maira Zafar, argued that there should be a check and balance on the Indian TV dramas because it can be a tool of cultural onslaught too. ‘Indian dramas are maligning our cultural values, especially, by influencing the minds of our children and women.’

Mr Rizwan Sharif, a faculty member, urged both India and Pakistan to relax visa restrictions to promote tourism and people-to-people contacts.

Mr Waqas Iqbal, the panellist from JWT, spoke unequivocally that our policy makers must understand the dividends India received through this diplomacy and why Pakistan has not been successful? Today, there are eight statues of Indian actors at ‘Madame Tussauds, London’ but we never see any Pakistani actor anywhere at international level although we have many great and wonderful actors.

The chairperson, Dr Saima Ashraf Kayani, summed up the discussion and said, ‘The public opinion really matters a lot for the foreign policy goals especially in the United States of America and other developed countries. I would also like to clarify here that our culture has its roots from the Central Asia region, so, we cannot confine the public and cultural diplomacy only to India rather it is an interaction channel which can be utilised everywhere. Moreover, public and cultural diplomacy has nothing to do with the religion or overruling the cultures of other nations. It is simply an essential instrument of soft power. It is encouraging that our students participated actively in a healthy discussion. I am also grateful to Jahangir’s World Times for providing them with an opportunity to express their opinions’.  Thanks a lot!

Special Thanks to Prof Dr Samina Amin Qadir
Vice Chancellor Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi


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