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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The urgency of soft power in Pakistan

According to Sameed Basha, Soft power differs from hard power through the display of one's cultural identity, history and values rather than its militaristic character. The element of soft power projection should be treated with the same objectivity and importance that we place on our national security in projecting hard power. This is to aid in the construction of its own cultural image and project its identity to the world.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, attended the National Amateur Short Film Festival, calling to promote ‘Pakistaniyat’, instead of taking inspiration from haphazard adaptations of Bollywood. The Prime Minister rightfully acknowledged the need for originality in Pakistan’s media productions, as a means to differentiate itself from its neighbor. This is to aid in the construction of its own cultural image and project its identity to the world.

Originality in the world of media and arts should be defined within the cultural and religious realms of the Islamic Republic, and by no means should it show a Westernised (white-washed) construct of 220 million Pakistanis; simply for the sake of appeasement. In the age of information, the rapid consumption of media through the social media landscape is an opportunity to reverse 20 years of Western propaganda. There is a word for this ‘media projection’ and it’s called soft power.

Read more: Are Middle Eastern powers competing for Islamic leadership through education?

Why do we need a reformed Pakistan?

The pandemic has provided a great reset for the world order and it is a matter of urgency for Pakistan, to capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It is vital that our policymakers craft the image of the country as young, open and welcoming for the world, in order to foster investment and tourism. Before the pandemic began, traveling Youtubers displayed Pakistan’s untapped scenic region of the North. They managed to display the unfiltered hospitality of locals and provided a raw and unbiased representation of the country, which contrasted to the hellish daily headlines witnessed on CNN or the BBC.

But no country besides the U.S has skillfully mastered this art of soft power projection.        Frank Sinatra famously once sang “If you can make it here you can make it anywhere,” in his song “New York, New York,” about the endless possibilities the city (as well as the U.S as a whole), can provide. This is further explained in detail by former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine, who remarked that Americans are powerful (at projecting soft power) “because they possess the ‘mental power’ to inspire the dreams and desires of others, thanks to their mastery of global images through film and television…”.

The field of arts, sports, media, and diplomatic relations are the mainstays of this form of power. The cultivation of all of these elements creates inroads into other countries, who may have had limited relations with ours, creating new allies and ventures for both countries. The key element to soft power is how unnoticeable it is to the average person because it is designed to evoke positive feelings about a particular country.

Common examples are India’s Bollywood film industry which is screened in cinemas throughout the world, China’s embedding of Confucius institutes in Universities which promote their language and culture, and the United Kingdom with its BBC service, Football franchises, and the Royal family. But the most proficient of them all is (again) the United States who has used Hollywood, Cable News (Fox/CNN), Silicon Valley (Apple/Microsoft), Fast food (McDonald’s/KFC/Coca-Cola/) to name a few, as an asset to project its soft power which is instantly recognizable.

Read more: Soft Power Indian intellectuals call for financial aid to Pakistan

The importance of knowing your target audience

Another component to this is to understand that our perception of the world is not how others perceive it to be. Projecting soft power for example in the Middle East, through religious affiliation would not vibe well with Europeans due to their secular nature. We should not change our ways to accommodate others, but utilize the length and breadth of what we can offer in our country, and tailor it to that audience.

For example, if Europeans were to be the target audience, then universal values of friendship, hospitality, the exhibition of the vibrant nature of our culture, our expansive history of 5000 years, as well as the beauty of our landscapes, should be the primary focus, not religion. Indeed religion is an integral part of Pakistan, but it should be reserved for the Middle East and African countries, who will resonate and appreciate the Islamic component of the country.

Another region that would appreciate this angle is ASEAN countries, which would be intrigued by the Buddhist heritage sites we have to offer. Differences in our culture with the world should not be used as a deterrent to put people off from coming to Pakistan, but these differences should be celebrated by inviting the world to experience something new.

Read more: Pakistan: Hard choices ahead for a ‘Soft State’

Each element of soft power projection should be treated with the same objectivity and importance that we place on our national security in projecting hard power. As the Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear, that we are no longer partners in war, but we are partners in peace and that side of Pakistan should be projected with a great deal of urgency, in order to capitalize on the changing world order.

The writer is a Defence and Political Analyst with a Masters in International Relations from  Deakin University, Australia specializing in Conflict & Security. He can be contacted at basha@deakin.edu.au. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.