Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Diplomacy and power

Hasan Naser Khan,

image from

The journey of Pak-US relations has been more of a roller coaster than smooth ride. Despite some stability in recent days, ties between the two countries are dictated by security dynamics that are often divergent.

With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its engagement in the Middle East, Pakistan’s role may further diminish in the region; this was evident during the recent visits of the prime minister and the army chief to Washington.

In the current scenario, both countries need to readjust and find a more reliable basis of cooperation around the civilian core instead of seeking security centric ties.

Besides politics and security, other significant aspects of Pak-US relations such as democracy, education, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges are equally important but relegated to the backburner.

In the study of international relations, the soft power theory explains the growing importance of people-to-people relations in the foreign policy of a country. Soft power is the ability to attract and persuade. In a world of increasing differences and misunderstandings among diverse cultures, soft power has assumed more importance in the foreign policy of a country than the traditional concept of hard power.

It is, however, difficult to assess the outcome of soft power in tangible terms. Exchange programmes, which are the practical manifestation of the concept, give an idea of the phenomenal success of such programmes in understanding the diverse cultures.

People understand each other better if given a chance to get to know each other. Besides exchange programmes, the media is a vital element of soft power as it forms the perceptions that shape our worldview. Perception matters a lot and plays a decisive role in the relations of the two nations. Unfortunately, media on both sides seems to have cemented stereotypes and fuels the feeling of hatred.

There could not be a more appropriate time for the US Pakistan Professional Partnership Program in Journalism to dispel grossly misrepresented images about the peoples of the two countries.

On the US side, the Department of State statistics reveal that only 36 percent of Americans have passports, which means a majority of them has never travelled abroad. Like most Pakistanis, people in America also buy the popular media story, which is far from reality.

Pakistan has had the largest Fulbright Program, according to the United States Educational Foundation. In 2012, more Pakistani students were selected for Fulbright than any other country except Chile. A record 248 students were sent to the US that year, which also speaks volumes about the talent of Pakistani students.

In 2014, around 1,200 Pakistanis came to the United States on various exchange programmes.

Over the years, the US has increased investment in various exchange programmes in Pakistan. However, a lot more needs to be done. Offering more visas to Pakistani students will go a long way in strengthening the social and cultural ties between Pakistan and the US. Pakistani students have exhibited remarkable success in US universities, when given a chance.

Both countries stand to gain a lot from each other by building people-to-people relations. US investment in people in the form of exchange programmes and active public diplomacy could be instrumental in bridging the gap and establishing enduring relations between the people of the countries.

Social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, have also come to play a big role in strengthening people-to-people contact.

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