Potential of Pakistan’s Soft Power

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Mian Majid Ali Afzal
In past days, hard power considered as one of the basic tools of foreign policy projection in the world. Later on, due to the process of globalization and information revolution at the end of Cold war, the term “soft power” started gaining momentum as it reflects peaceful application of power. The elements of Pakistan’s national power such as its geographic location, military, nuclear power, diplomacy, governance and leadership, resilience, agriculture and other natural resources, population and demography, religion, cultural diversity, information technology, etc., have great potential for growth, which can massively supplement its efforts to softer its image. These elements of national power have to be recognized, further developed, and integrated as whole, else they would remain under-utilized. Pakistan has been suffering from a severe image problem since the occurrence of 9/11 incident though it tried to give several positive stances to its credit. The reason behind this dilemma could be that less importance were given in building the image of nation and country. Pakistan, despite having rich cultural and historical heritage, has not been able to get world’s attention. And the reason behind this agony is its negative image. So, to counter the negative narratives about Pakistan is through soft power. Soft power can be defined as shaping of others’ thoughts and preferences through appeal and attraction. The simplest way to make a country captivating is through its values that other countries would love to imitate. Pakistan being a multi-cultural society has unique, diverse and appealing cultures. This cultural diversity can help to develop a softer image of Pakistan if projected by media. Pakistan is also a host country of rich and the world’s oldest civilisations–Gandhara and Indus Valley (Mohenjo-Daro). It is called the gateway to the world’s great religions: Islam and Buddhism. Tourism is another important aspect of Pakistan. Tourist places stretches from the mighty Karakoram in the North to the vast alluvial delta of the Indus River in the South. Moreover, Pakistan is home to numerous peaks above 7,000 meters. Almighty has gifted it with a rich and varied flora and fauna. Mighty Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindukush ranges, with their alpine meadows and a permanent snow line, coniferous forests of the hills running down to the sub-mountain areas, the vast Indus plain merging into the great desert, the coastline and wetlands, which can hold any tourist breathlessly awful in wonder and amazement. However, law and order situation of the country have always been the biggest impediments to the arrival of foreign tourists. The tourism industry goes with brand and reputation. People avoid visiting a country where they know their families will not be safe. Therefore, most activities related to tourism in Pakistan are carried out because of local tourism. According to Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, there has been a steady increase in local tourism with 38.3 million local in 2017. Still the tourism industry has not even managed to tackle with the influx of these local tourists. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, developed by the World Economic Forum, shows enabling factors for all the stakeholders to work together for the betterment of the industry’s competitiveness. The index is further divided into four sub-groups, i.e. enabling environment, travel and tourism (T&T) policy, infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been ranked as 124th out of 136 countries which is very low considering that there is an abundance of cultural resources. According to this index, Pakistan has 56th position for cultural resources and business travel, which indicates a huge potential for tourism in Pakistan. There are numerous reasons for the unsatisfactory performance of the tourism sector. Security, terrorism and law and order are the main hindrances in the growth of tourism industry and prevent tourists from visiting Pakistan. Government negligence and lack of interest of bureaucrats can be considered as the second main reason that negatively affects this industry. We do not have national tourism policy while the sector has been devolved to provinces without having any coordination and communication mechanism at the national level. There seems to be zero dedication and commitment at the national and provincial levels towards promotion and anticipation of tourism opportunities and tourists’ places. The need is to be recognized that the government and private sector go hand in hand in the promotion of tourism industry. The government is solely responsible for a broader policy that lures foreign tourists to the country while the private sector pitches in to cater to tourists on the ground. Furthermore, the governmental tourism departments are inadequately manned and they have no tourism educational and training sectors. Pakistan extended the visa-on-arrival facility to 50 countries and offered e-visa to citizens of 175 countries in order to boost tourism. Tourists in Pakistan, mostly locals, face various challenges as tourism authorities usually do not provide them adequate facilities. Perhaps, one of the biggest challenges that the tourism industry faces is that there is no consistent marketing and branding strategy. Comparing this with other developing countries such as India initiated national tourism brand as ‘Incredible India’ brand and Malaysia’s ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ brand to capture the attention of millions of tourists to these countries. Backward infrastructure and intra/intercity transportation facilities is another big issue. Pakistan can learn a lot of lessons from different ecosystems which could be adopted and adjusted according to its own socio-economic and religious setup. First of all, the need is to develop a national tourism policy which integrates all the provinces, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The government should sign public-private joint ventures to create an enabling environment. A tourism board should also be established which included public, private and foreign partners. Domestic tourism has been increasing day by day but the facilities and the management of tourist hotels are not very accommodating. The government should standardize the quality facilities provided to these local visitors. Furthermore, proper monitoring in terms of check and balance on quarterly or annually basis will ensure hotels maintain their quality of services. For the promotion of foreign tourism, one of the most crucial aspects is to build a branding strategy which ultimately creates a soft image of Pakistan. In this context, sponsoring clerics, academics and public intellectuals, who advocate a positive and soft version of religion, can prove themselves to be a step in the right direction.We are blessed with topography, four weathers, attractive northern areas, Swat valley, religious (Buddhist and Sikh/Hindu), historical sites, etc. it has great opportunity to develop a 1,046km-long coastline in the south by creating resorts and hotels. Muslim brothers’ countries-the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia are example for Pakistan, not only from the tourism perspective, but from the economic and socio- cultural aspect as well. In order to implement such a grand scheme so that we can portrait a softer image of Pakistan in tourism field, all organs of the state i.e. legislators, executives and the judiciary should be on a single page. Some other suggestions to improve soft power image Soft power proceeds from the people of Pakistan and Pakistani society. This is the basic theme that has to be focused to improve the soft power image of Pakistan. The power centers are multiple in this country and the civil society needs to be empowered to a level where it can sponsor Pakistan’s soft power. Creativity and dynamism of Pakistanis need to be joined by enhancing interaction with the civil societies of other countries. Due to historic rivalry in between Pakistan and India, Pakistan has invested heavily in building hard or military power and unfortunately soft power as an instrument of policy has not been developed effectively. In view of the abundant resource potential that Pakistan has, to acquire soft power, we recommend that Pakistan should exert its energy to introduce the requisite balance between soft and hard power so that it can improve its image globally. Irresponsible and adventurist statements of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s are auspicious for Pakistan, as these can be taken as an opportunity to demonstrate how Pakistan’s strategic thinking is more concerned and mature, contrasts the current mindset in India. And this could not be done without engaging major think tanks, media outlets and other opinion makers in the world.It is essence of time to modify the narrative on the nature of South Asia needs. Countries including in Central Asia are a part of the greater South Asia and Pakistan has a great importance in this region. Pakistan, due to its geographical location, provides a regional connectivity link that is yet to be utilized. However, there is an emerging understanding, after the CPEC agreement, that regional connectivity via Pakistan will accrue huge economic dividends for not only Pakistan but also other Central Asian, Gulf States and Middle East countries. There is a dire need for rapid response to emerging issues, such as negative projection of Pakistan’s nuclear program , terrorism activities , Kashmir issue, Afghanistan etc., and propose new ideas based on logic and reason.

(-The writer is serving as a Strategic & Administrative Adviser at CPEC based project in Islamabad. He is also a member of Anti-Drug Task Force Punjab.)

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