Pakistan’s Soft Power Problem

In the aftermath of the Uri attack on an Indian army camp, India has adopted an aggressive foreign policy towards Pakistan. The pressure seems to be building up whereas Pakistan’s efforts to mitigate the pressure are largely ending in futility. Pakistan feels that the international community, in particular the United States, has adopted a discriminatory attitude toward Pakistan. It has chosen to turn a blind eye to Indian aggression especially in Indian-administered Kashmir and a deaf ear to Pakistan’s protests and appeals.

The question is, why is the world unwilling to listen to Pakistan and very willing to close its eyes towards Indian hostility? Two reasons can be accounted for this: Pakistan’s “push factor” and India’s “pull factor.” The two factors when combined bring detrimental consequences for Pakistan.

Firstly, self-defeating national security policies have deteriorated Pakistan’s image internationally. The employment of proxies to achieve national security interests may have seemed like an effective strategy in the 1980s. However, in the post-9/11 world, the geopolitical scenario has completely changed. Most states view Pakistan with a narrow vision of a state that harbors and exports terrorism. Such a narrative is a huge hindrance in any diplomatic efforts by Pakistan to bring international attention towards its stance.

Secondly, the absence of any soft power has made it more difficult for Pakistan to project its alternate image in the international community. Overemphasis on hard power has made Pakistan a security state where other tools such as arts, culture, education and diplomacy are seldom used to promote foreign policy objectives. Add to this, Pakistan’s fragile security environment and faltering economic structure and you get a perfect recipe to push the international community away despite Pakistan’s highly significant geostrategic location and a huge market. In contrast, with a market of more than a billion people, a widespread diaspora and a bursting economy, India holds a strong pull factor for other countries. India can only be ignored with a risk of losing a huge market. Moreover, India has immense soft power embedded in its resilient political institutions, business friendly economy, the energetic civil society, vast diplomatic networks, foreign aid activities, and Bollywood. India intelligently employs its soft power to nurture and sustain long-term relationships. India has courted Iran and Afghanistan in its favor through sustained diplomacy and foreign investment. China and the Gulf countries, while supporting Pakistan diplomatically, are cautious not to push India due to their overwhelming economic ties with the later.

Furthermore, India holds strong geopolitical significance for Western powers. The United States is courting India to mitigate Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific. Therefore, while paying lip-service over atrocities in Kashmir, the United States is hesitant to pressurize India due to risking its own interests in the region. Conversely, the United States is pressurizing Pakistan to take action against militant groups alleged to be committing acts of terrorism in India and Afghanistan. Recently, the U.S. Congress denied the release of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan for not doing enough against terrorists.

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Pakistan’s push factors and India’s pull factors overlap to perpetuate this international attitude of complacency towards India and overbearing pressure on Pakistan. So we see that despite a minor setback at BRICS summit, Modi’s policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan seems to be working. For instance, many SAARC states boycotted SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan in a show of solidarity with India. Pakistan, however, has largely adopted a policy of restraint and has repeatedly shown willingness for dialogue with India. It did not refuse to attend the Heart of Asia conference in India in a tit-for-tat response to India’s boycott of SAARC summit. Pakistan’s High Commissioner in India in an interview indicated the conference as an opportunity for bilateral dialogue. Instead, it became a Pakistan bashing platform.

India has upheld a hyper-nationalistic posture towards Pakistan through alleged surgical strike, LoC violations, and threats of hydrological warfare by undermining the Indus Water Treaty. Pakistan’s protests over Indian belligerence have remained unheard. The international community needs to realize that Pakistan is a significant state in the region without the support of which sustainable peace in South Asia is not possible. Pressurizing Pakistan to “do more” without paying heed to its concerns will only push it further to rely on non-state actors in order to preserve its interests. Comprehensive dialogue on all regional issues by involvement of all stakeholders and in the presence of international guarantors is the only step forward for everlasting peace in the region.

Pakistan needs to develop its soft power in order to project its alternate image. For this, Pakistan should reconsider and expand its national security policy from excessive militarist paradigm to human security paradigm. Our foreign relations are largely based on defense concerns and large portion of our meager resources is consumed to buy fancy weapons. China is our ‘all-weather’ friend but we hardly know Chinese people. Investment in education, literature, culture, democracy, institutions, social development, and public diplomacy will pave the way for creating Pakistan’s pull factors that in turn will strengthen Pakistan’s bargaining position and increase the chances of its voice getting heard.

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Image 1: White House, Flickr

Image 2: U.S. Embassy, Pakistan, Flickr

Posted in , Arms Control, CBMs, China, Civil-Military Relations, Cooperation, Defence, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, History, Human Rights, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Internal Security, Militancy, Military, Pakistan, Peace

Nayab Fatima

Nayab Fatima

Nayab Fatima is an M. Phil scholar in International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Her research interests include foreign policy (particularly of the United States, major powers, and Pakistan), diplomacy, security, conflict resolution, and sustainable development in Pakistan and South Asia. Her M. Phil dissertation topic is, “From Confrontation to Pragmatic Engagement: Shift in US Foreign Policy towards Iran.” She is a member of 8th Youth Parliament Pakistan, an initiative of PILDAT to develop a democratic culture in Pakistan. Previously, she worked on a 'Right to Information’ advocacy campaign with CPDI, a non-profit organisation. She maintains a personal blog at nayabfatima.wordpress.com.

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2 thoughts on “Pakistan’s Soft Power Problem

  1. Nayab:
    Well done.
    Pakistan has considerable soft power (arts, literature, music, fashion, etc.) but it is overridden by perceptions about how it uses proxy power.
    MK

  2. Michael Krepon:
    Thank you.
    PS. Nice terminology: ‘proxy power’. You just highlighted a new element of power.

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