Pakistan needs to raise its diplomatic game, be bold in the way it defines itself on international forums and project its soft power without being shy about it.
These were the views expressed by former ambassador Maleeha Lodhi at a session at the 12th Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday, which was moderated by international relations expert Huma Baqai.
Lodhi highlighted some of the opportunities for Pakistan and the challenges it faces in the world of diplomacy today.
Sharing her perspectives, drawn largely from her sixteen years of experience in diplomacy, Lodhi said it was imperative to first recognise that we confront a much more complex and an interconnected world than our past generations.
“The very concept of power has been undergoing change. Military and economic power remain important determinants of global standing and influence but they are not sufficient to guarantee the effectiveness or success of any country’s foreign policy, whether big, large or medium,” she said, adding that this kind of power needed to be augmented or reinforced by “soft power” in order to dominate narratives.
“The world’s biggest powers feel the need to deploy soft power, why would they do that if they have enough strength militarily and economically,” she continued, stressing on its importance to magnify a country’s influence on the global stage.
A concept first introduced by American political scientist Joseph Nye in the 1980s, soft power in international politics aims at adopting non-coercive approaches to matters between states, mainly attracting cooperation and goodwill through appeal and credibility, of which culture, people-to-people contact and diplomacy constitute an important part, according to scholars.
Need for global outreach
Lodhi underscored that in an increasingly multipolar world, where global power is dispersed, much greater outreach is needed in order to be effective. The former ambassador said formal alliances matter much less in the world that we inhabit today and instead, ad hoc coalitions have become the preferred choice for alignment by countries, adding that this creates the need for countries to build networks of support and partnerships to pursue different goals.
Speaking on the building of goodwill and a positive image to facilitate cooperation, Lodhi said, that the opinion of foreign publics counts in this regard.
“For me diplomacy is and should be about shaping public perceptions abroad in support of our strategic goals whether they are security goals or [the] promotion of trade, investment or tourism,” she stressed.
Lodhi further said that the need for countries to build their influence these days can be seen through vaccine diplomacy.
She said that the Western countries saw China take the lead there, in what was essentially soft power diplomacy. “It is China that sent vaccines to many countries in the developing world, including our own,” she said. “In fact the only vaccines available, as we speak, in Pakistan, happen to come from China free of cost for now.”
Lodhi added that the need for the United States of America and its partners to respond to this development, by taking countermeasures, is all part of wanting to build influence, which according to her, is also the use of soft power resources by these states.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2021.
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