Need to Re-invent the Soft Power of Pakistan


Need to Re-invent the 

Soft Power of Pakistan

Mian Majid Ali Afzal

 Soft power is associated with the rise of globalization, technological revolution and neoliberal international relations theory. However, it is not merely the application of non-traditional instruments such as culture and commercial goods, rather the fulcrum on which the principles of soft power stand are society, institutions and policies to attain state objectives. Similarly, all non-military action does not constitute soft power. Educational and cultural institutions play a critical significant part in the development of soft power of a nation. Popular culture and media are frequently identified as a source of soft power, as is the spread of a national language, or a particular set of normative structures that inspire others to acculturate.

Projected as the epicenter of problems, the post-9/11 environment has badly tarnished the soft image of Pakistan. Resultantly, Pakistan continues to face the wrath of terrorism on the one hand, and poor image, on the other. The dream of a true Pakistan cannot be fulfilled unless the security situation in the country improves, and it attracts foreign delegations, tourists, students and international sports tournaments. The middle class is a country’s actual cultural/soft power resource. The overall mismanagement of the country has resulted in poor socioeconomic indicators.

Despite the above image problems, Pakistan is a culturally rich country, blessed with a geostrategic location making transnational linkages conducive to all kinds of traditional, educational and sports exchange programmes for projecting its soft power. A culturally-charged populace, throughout the country’s length and breadth, remains engaged in traditional festivals, youth and literature exhibitions and mountaineering expeditions. Given the prevailing regional and global environment as well as the domestic dynamics, Pakistan can enhance its soft power through three resources: culture, political values and its foreign policies/public diplomacy (Kartarpur Corridor, etc). We must remember that the constraints touched upon earlier may exist in other countries too, but they are still able to project and maintain a soft image successfully. What is needed is synergy in the efforts of the state, civil society, diaspora and strategic messaging through strong media campaigns.


The internet, specifically social media, has shifted the concept of soft power beyond state policies. Pakistan needs to manage and balance its soft power with hard power in a way that it does not remain inextricably dependent on hard power alone; and to evolve national consensus and support for resolving internal and external issues by focusing on softer techniques. In the political domain, it is important for Pakistan to inculcate mature democratic values through democratic dispensation; democracy within political parties (intraparty election system); giving primacy to political institutions and interdepartmental/ministerial harmony. This can be achieved only with continuity of democratic regimes by ensuring that there is an independent and free election commission, legislation for compulsory casting of votes; and an impartial judiciary. There should be legal binding for policy formulation in foreign, economic, interior, climate change, defense and educational affairs. Possible ways to succeed in combating extremism through soft power include engaging with moderate, faith-based civil society organizations and local NGOs to combat militant jihadi networks; coordinating with senior community leaders to reach grassroots levels. The state should also tap the region’s rich mineral resources, implement a taxation emergency, and privatize sick public enterprises like Pakistan Steel, PIA and Railways. Strict laws, accountability, and transparency should be imposed for deterring corruption in society.

Given below are some of the internal and external strategies that need to be adopted to improve Pakistan’s existing image at the global level:


There is an urgent need for Pakistan Cultural and Educational Councils to be established in the European Union, ASEAN, and Scandinavian countries, as well as in the United States and Canada, where prominence should be given to the cultural festivals of Pakistan. Similarly, having created the financial space, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, educational institutions and think tanks can offer training/fellowship programmes for students/scholars from abroad on exchange basis or even unilateral basis.

Through expertly-crafted narratives, reputed specialists need to be engaged in producing movies for projecting the true image of Pakistan.

Pakistan is a tourism paradise which has regrettably become Milton’s Paradise Lost. The government needs to incentivize local and foreign tourists by adding more affordable, safe and secure hotels for foreign tourists with subsidized rates; offer cheaper ticket deals on all kinds of transportation; and develop dedicated facilitation centres with up-to-date maps and details about tourist attractions and expert guides covering all possible tourist resorts.

For promoting domestic and foreign tourism, coordinated events can be planned during the summer season to attract tourists around the northern areas of Pakistan. A suggested pattern could be celebration of a “Blossoming Pakistan Week” consisting of events like passing out parades of the Pakistan Military Academy and Regimental Centres, polo and golf tournaments, musical events and excursion/hiking trips.


Since, the edifice of public diplomacy rests on understanding the roles of sustainability, credibility, self-criticism, and civil society in generating soft power, the said Office may be entrusted with reframing the image of Pakistan through culture, arts, and tourism. A suggested diplomacy theme could be “Promising Pakistan” Credibility and legitimacy of the state is the raison deter of soft power. Foreign policy of a state gains legitimacy when its institutions are seen working and contributing towards economic and social welfare.

Understanding Soft power

Power is the ability to influence the behaviour of others to get the outcomes you want. There are several ways one can achieve this: you can coerce them with threats; you can induce them with payments; or you can attract and co-opt them to want what you want. Thus soft power – getting others to want the outcomes you want – co-opts people rather than coerces them.

Coined by Joseph S. Nye in the late 1980s, the term “soft power” is now widely used in international affairs by analysts and statesmen. It can be contrasted with ‘hard power’, which is the use of coercion and payment. Soft power can be wielded not just by states but also by all actors in international politics, such as NGOs or international institutions.

Soft Power may be defined as “the national resources that can lead to a country’s ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading, and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain preferredoutcomes.” The success of soft power heavily depends on the State’s reputation within the international community, as well as the flow of information between States. Thus, soft power is often linked to the rise of globalization and neoliberal theory. Popular culture and media is often identified as a source of soft power, as is the spread of a national language, or a particular set of normative structures. A nation with a large amount of soft power and the goodwill so won can inspire other countries to acculturate, thus avoiding the need for expensive hard power expenditures.

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