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Does Pakistan need soft power? Challenges and prospects (Part I) July 2, 2015

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Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

Non-traditional security has become more salient since the end of Cold War. Multiple issues, such as stagnating economies, adverse effects of climate change, energy crisis, repressive governments, cronyism and corruption, poor governance, cross-border interventions, refugees and internally displaced people, drug and criminal mafias – all necessitate revising the traditional security paradigm. Pakistan has also faced domestic turbulence in the last decade due to its proximity to war-wracked Afghanistan.

The term ‘soft power,’ coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye Jr., gained currency in the 1990s and is now widely used in international affairs by scholars and statesmen. ‘Soft power’ is the ability to seduce, persuade and convince through values that mankind holds dear: democracy, art, culture, human rights, welfare, good governance and societal harmony. Nye differentiates between two types of power: ‘Hard power’ is ‘the ability to get others to act in ways that are contrary to their initial preferences and strategies’ On the contrary, ‘soft power’ is the ability to get ‘others to want the outcomes that you want’ and more particularly, ‘the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion’. Finally, Nye introduces ‘smart power’ fusing hard and soft power. Nye does not reject the realist paradigm, which focuses on military power, but thinks that a discreet combination will make a country vibrant and internationally credible.

Soft power is sometimes more useful than hard power. Indeed, complex issues such as global warming, global diseases, refugee rehabilitation, post-war reconstruction and cyberspace are more likely to be resolved through the use of soft power, where the use of only military instruments would be inefficient or insufficient. Instead of acting unilaterally, nations can act multilaterally. Use of multilateralism co-opts others and enables other countries not to feel threatened by a single nation’s supremacy. The presence and use of soft power by a nation state gives it psychic confidence by raising its international image, and leads to enhanced interactions in international organizations, and cultural, trade and other cooperation. Diplomacy becomes easier and more effective with attainment of soft power.

However some key factors are necessary for power conversion: capital, political structure, social capital and social structure. Established democracies are more inclined to use soft power than authoritarian regimes. Soft power can be wielded not just by states but by other actors in international politics, such as NGOs and international institutions. A country’s soft power rests on three resources: its culture; and its political values and foreign policies when others see them as legitimate.

‘Soft power’ as embodied in influence of culture and arts is as old as history: the Greek, Roman, Iranian, Indian and Ottoman empires all manifested this influence on others. US, Great Britain, France and Russia also radiated a ‘soft power’ effect in their dominated territories. Islamic societies such as the Abbasides and then Spanish Moors in their heydayexhibited ‘soft power’ , but over a period of time, this dwindled through political enfeeblement. This has caused poverty of thought, anti-intellectualism and lack of creative dynamism in many Muslim societies. South Asia has had a rich cultural reservoir of Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic (Turkish, Iranian and central Asian) and lately British heritage.

Why is ‘soft power’ generally lacking in the Islamic world and, ipso facto, in Pakistan? Soft power was more evident in the 1960s/early 1970s when Pakistan presented an image of a moderate, progressive Islamic welfare state. Pakistan then had a better economy, held development models for others, had a hardworking friendly workforce abroad and attracted foreign investments; it was a place for foreign tourists; possessed good universities; civil institutions, better educational levels and skillful diplomacy. However since the 1980s, the situation has steadily declined with the country succumbing to forces of militancy and radicalism. Regional international developments such as invasions of neighboring Afghanistan by two superpowers (Soviet Union and USA) and the festering Kashmir dispute with India have taken their toll. More importantly, the average myopic leaderships lacked vision to nurture overall national interests through ‘soft power’ and instead obsessed over the security state paradigm. Turkey and Malaysia enjoy mid-way status in the ‘soft power’ spectrum, while Pakistan is behind.

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Dr. Maqsudul Hasan Nuri is former President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute and presently Adviser to Centre for Policy Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad.

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