Saturday, April 2, 2016

Learning from Turkey

Mahrukh Sarfraz, Letter to the Editor, The Express Tribune

image from

RAWALPINDI: The secret to successful public diplomacy for a state may sound like a surreptitious potion whose recipe lies with the magicians. However, it is the art of devising and executing strategies, just in the accurate proportion, to transform the way the local and international public perceives a certain state. So, where does this recipe come from? It comes from the human mind.

Public diplomacy is instrumental in shaping perceptions and wielding influence. It requires the ability to think and to have an aim, together with the right road map and institutions. But above all, it calls for acknowledgement of the fact that a state has that potential.

States today are not measured by their military strength but by the strength with which they attract the international audience and bridge the gap between nations. States aim to promote their people, culture, and history across borders in hopes of generating a positive country image. It is the development and promotion of this positive image that states today prioritise.

Turkey is a successful case study in this respect. It is, arguably, the hub of international tourism, in addition to being an exceptional player on the global stage. One may trace this to its unique geopolitical setting, resources and strategies. Its ability to exercise power comes from its history, geo-positioning and culture. It has generated a strong nation-brand for forming an alliance across the Middle East and beyond. This nation-brand has been significantly aided by Turkey’s ‘zero-problem with neighbours’ and ‘relationship-building’ policies, among others.

Dr Ishrat Hussain [see], Director of IBA, stated what a student of international relations may identify as the two essential ingredients of public diplomacy, in his recent speech at a Rotaract Club: “There are two aspects to the development of a brand: one, identifying the attributes which constitute the brand; and two, deciding on the manner in which they are packaged and presented.”

Turkey has been successful in both of these aspects. It developed an identity first, then projected it in the region and beyond. What is more, the lifting of visa necessities and ease in trade and investment regulations, have turned out to give a major boost to tourism. Turkey’s recent growth figures depicted it as the fastest-growing economy in Europe and the second in the world after China. Besides tourism, cultural promotion has also yielded satisfying results. Turkey’s cultural products, especially television series, are sold to audiences across the world.

As Turkey overcomes its old fears and builds a new identity for itself, the process of transformation will have a deep impact on domestic and foreign policy. Some analysts might misread these efforts but since Turkey belongs to the continents of Europe and Asia, the dynamics, aims and ambitions of the country are versatile as a matter of geopolitical necessity. However, Turkey does face the challenge of gaining credibility in the pursuit of nation-branding, in order to be able to “attract” people to the idea, as Joseph Nye would say. It has to overcome cultural prejudices and strengthen policies, refine concepts, and settle the ethnic conflicts on its land. Problems such as democracy, human rights and transparency form the ‘great Turkish debate’, especially when it comes to the question of the Kurds and non-Muslim Turks. By conquering these shortcomings, not only will Turkey stand out for its attempts but also become an example of unprecedented resilience and triumph, leading to an enduring sensation for the rest of the world.

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