Abdul Rasool Syed
The Means to Success in World Politics
Kudos to Pakistan Armed Forces, exclusively to Pakistan Air Force, for shooting down two Indian jets that violated Pakistani airspace! It was, for sure, an exemplary display of hard power that Pakistan has earned through the indefatigable industry and selfless devotion of its armed forces which they cherish for the noble cause of defending the frontiers of our country under all circumstances.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan possesses one of the best armed forces in the world. Pak Army is equipped with modern, sophisticated weaponry and an equally efficient command and control system. Above all, Pakistan is a nuclear power – a capability that always deters its adversaries from launching an all-out war against it. Surprisingly, Indian premier Narendra Modi has also admitted the superiority of Pakistan’s military after getting a befitting response in recent confrontation. All this suggests that Pakistan maintains enormous hard power.
But in today’s world, the enemy is not wholly vanquished only through the use of hard power; the soft power is fairly necessary to outsmart the rivals in the realm of global perception warfare. Soft power excessively contributes to building soft image of a country and helps improve its perception to the world. Therefore, the perception warfare should also be given equal concentration in fight with the enemy.
Joseph S. Nye, a renowned US academic who coined the term ‘soft power’ in the late 1980s, defines soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment.” He adds: “It includes culture, values and foreign policies.” Soft power is, therefore, used to influence and change the behaviour of other nations through attraction rather than coercion. But soft power does not exclude hard power; it supplements and augments it. This is why the term smart power, which is the amalgamation of soft and hard power, has gained currency nowadays. This is what our country Pakistan is in dire need of at present. Our country is good at hard power but requires much effort to enhance its soft power as well.
Unfortunately, despite having enormous soft power potential, Pakistan failed to fully exploit that. Resultantly, ‘the epicenter of terrorism’, ‘international migraine’, ‘safe haven for the terrorists’ and ‘rogue state’ are some appellations that the world community has conferred upon the country. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has also put Pakistan on its Grey List. More recently, when Pakistan objected to inviting Indian minister for external affairs, Ms Sushma Swaraj, to Abu Dhabi Summit of the OIC as a ‘guest of honor’, its objection was blatantly overruled despite the fact that Pakistan is the founding member of the organization. This vividly reflects our image and status in the comity of nations.
Realizing the importance of soft power in the contemporary world, our arch-rival India has worked a lot in this domain, and has thereby succeeded in projecting its soft image to the world. Its success story can be traced back to the 1990s when Indian finance ministry, the Reserve Bank of India and the country’s Planning Commission formed a joint strategy (under the guidance of Manmohan Singh and Monty Singh) to support Indian corporations in developing a global vision and making their presence tangibly felt on the corporate map of the world. To this end, a meeting of bigwigs of the corporate world was convened at the famous Ritz Carlton, London. This gathering resulted in the emergence of what is today referred to as the London Club—to be supported by the Indian Government and its institutions in achieving the singular task assigned to them: creating a world of Indian multinationals.
In pursuance of this goal, big businesses like Tata, Mahindra and Mahindra, Birla, Reliance, Godrej, DCM, Infosys and the others went on an international shopping spree so as to create economic and corporate linkages and undertake mergers and acquisitions of everything and anything that they found fit to their overall business model and strategy. As a result, today India owns Jaguar, Land Rover, Tetley, RHT, Slazane, Favre, Leuba and Arcelor and holds large stakes in every field that one can think of. In IT alone, Indian firms in US provide jobs to half a million Americans.
At home, these Indian multinationals provided extensive financial support to Indian academic institutions to bring them at par with the best institutions in the world, and they also worked to connect India with the leading western universities and colleges. It is due to this policy that today, the graduates from India’s IIT, NIT, Bangalore Institute of Technology and others are at par with their counterparts from MIT, Harvard and UCLA. Apart from this, Indian professors, lecturers and researchers are also making their presence in western campuses felt. More importantly, Indian academics hold key positions at campuses where ideas and opinion are created. There is little wonder then that India’s image today is in an envious position. These academicians are the real fighters in the perception warfare.
To add, Indians also hold key posts in world’s leading corporate multinationals, e.g. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; Google CEO Sundar Pichai; PepsiCo. CEO Indra Nooyi (stepped down in October 2018); Chairman Adobe Inc. Shantanu Narayen, ex-CEO SoftBank Nikesh Arora; CEO Nokia Rajeev Suri, to name a few.
To counter this dominant Indian presence on the world scene, we need to enhance our own soft power by highlighting fields like culture, literature, tourism, cuisine and sports. These soft elements help develop a balanced national ethos and weave a strong social fabric with threads of humanism, tolerance and coexistence.
Regrettably, despite being blessed with a rich archeological, cultural and ancient heritage, as well as a pristine natural beauty, Pakistan is demonized as extremists’ haven, instead of being distinguished as a tourism hub. This state of affairs reflects that we, as a nation, individually and collectively have failed in showcasing the true strengths of our land – people, culture, civilisational and archaeological credentials, arts and crafts, folk music, cuisines and colourful cultural apparels – to the world.
To refute the allegations of extremism, we should have presented the teachings of the great sages of the ages and Sufis like Bulleh Shah, Faridud Din Ganj Shakar, Data Ali Hajveri, Sachal Sarmast, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Waris Shah, Shah Hussain and numerous other revered personalities whose teachings contain the message of love, peace and respectful coexistence.
Consequently, due to our apathy, the poetry of our poets and Sufis is being used by Indian musicians, singers and film producers with impunity, as if these legendry figures were of Indian origin.
In addition, we have also neglected our sports which are also a great source of soft power. Pakistan had made an exceptional imprint on the world of sports, especially in squash, hockey, snooker and cricket in particular, and bagged multiple championships, titles and laurels. The downfall in sports should be a matter of great concern for the government as well as our society as a whole.
Another source of soft power, which has traditionally ranked low on our national priorities, is music and our great singers, composers and musicians like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Alam Lohar, Noor Jahan, Mehdi Hasan who ruled over the music kingdom of the Indian Subcontinent. We also did not adequately showcase to the world the spell-binding works of maestros like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen.
Similarly, our film industry and TV dramas are another source of soft power that remains neglected. Compared to the golden age of Pakistan film industry in 60s and 70s when score of superhits were produced, our present status is only a shadow of what we used to be in the past.
Unlike us, India has greatly capitalized on its film industry “Bollywood”. The ground realities of India in terms of tolerance, secularism, peace and pluralism are starkly different from what is portrayed in its movies. Bollywood is used to hoodwink world opinion in order to clinch favourable deals and economic benefits.
Likewise, how India successfully projected Pakistani food to the world as Indian is also a testimony to our utter negligence to our own exclusivities. Despite the fact that our cuisine is far better than that of most South Asian countries, it is, regrettably, marketed abroad as Indian.
To cap it all, Pakistan requires systematic efforts to improve its soft image. The release of Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan as a gesture of peace is laudable and it will certainly add to country’s soft power but we should not sit on these laurels only. There is a lot that needs to be done to achieve smart power. Each national institution has its role in projecting its soft power, because it is the sum total of all those institutions that embody the national image. At the same time, we need to incorporate the inspiring stories of Abdul Sattar Edhi, Malala Yousafzai, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and late Arfa Kareem Randhawa, who define our real Pakistan, in our quest for smart power.
Soft Power and Economic Gains
Soft power has always been an influential method for states to achieve political objectives. First World countries have always extended their economic support to under developed states, either to become their ally or to deter another potential ally. Pakistan, despite being a nuclear power although lacking undeterred hard power diction, couldn’t build up on its soft power either. Even when countries engage in the most hostile of events, cultural diplomacy remains active through exchange programmes, art and musical events, to say the least. It does not only strengthen economic foothold in another country but creates prospects for extended trade activity too, in the long run.
In short, soft power and cultural diplomacy is an economic and political investment, which, however, shall not be bilateral always. Pakistan, in terms of its soft power has had massive imports from China, given the rapid and unusual outbreak of Chinese engagement, particularly in the Gwadar region. With more language centres teaching Mandarin, Pakistan is likely to experience substantial Chinese cultural influx into the country. Having seen undeniable importance of cultural influence, Pakistan too should make use of its cultural sphere extending similar programmes to other countries in the region.
With a stuttering economy, faltering trade balances and foreign investments, Pakistan is in an unprecedented strategic position in the region. Hence, it becomes even more important for the country to create and extend its soft power and cultural sway.
Interplay between Hard Power and Soft Power
Hard power and soft power are related because they are both aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behaviour of others. The distinction between them is one of degree, both in the nature of the behaviour and in the tangibility of the resources. Command power – the ability to change what others do – can rest on coercion or inducement. Co-optive power – the ability to shape what others want – can rest on the attractiveness of one’s culture and values or the ability to manipulate the agenda of political choices in a manner that makes others fail to express some preferences because they seem to be too unrealistic.
The types of behaviour between command and co-option range along a spectrum from coercion to economic inducement to agenda-setting to pure attraction. Soft power resources tend to be associated with the co-optive end of the spectrum of behaviour, whereas hard power resources are usually associated with command behaviour. Hard and soft power sometimes reinforce and sometimes interfere with each other. A leader who courts popularity may loath to exercise hard power when he should, but a leader who throws his weight around without regard to the effects on his soft power may find others placing obstacles in the way of his hard power.