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July 12, 2019

Cultural diplomacy

Opinion

July 12, 2019

Diplomacy in our present day has become increasingly difficult as the mistrust and toxicity of conflict grip a global audience. Millions of people are suffering as a consequence of being caught under this harsh spotlight of accusations and abuse from both opposing sides.

It has become a real challenge to move from unbridled hatred towards tolerance and reconciliation under such pressure. The hopeful promises made in our treaties cannot yield to peace unless there is mutual good faith and credibility amongst those who govern us. We need to impress the ever increasing need for cultural diplomacy to those that represent us to win the hearts and minds of the doubtful.

Traditionally, diplomacy is defined as an aim and attitude fashioned in favour of maintaining international relations. It is an art of dealing with people carefully and tactfully. Cultural diplomacy is one such dimension of public diplomacy. Whilst a traditional diplomatic approach helps in understanding, informing and influencing the people, cultural diplomacy is the exchange of values, systems and other aspects of culture with the intention to forging mutual understanding. The aim is to promote reconciliation by strengthening intercultural and interfaith understanding and enhance socio-cultural cooperation. Cultural diplomacy is one of the major instruments that a country can use to advance its interests and position in the world.

It is not a new phenomenon for a country to share their culture in diplomacy. Cultural exchange breeds understanding and a sense of trust that paves the way towards strengthening relations with other nations. It has been a practice of many states to use their culture to communicate and convey social, cultural, political and economic values. Cultural diplomacy is considered an effective and important tool in foreign policy and is used as a form of soft power.

The term ‘soft power’ was first coined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye; it means “the ability to persuade others through culture, values and ideas”. It is a way to influence others in a sophisticated and gentle manner leading to positive image building as well as advancing economic and political interest. Through persuasiveness you can prove a point in a way that will not offend someone and compromise is infinitely more valuable than manipulation. It is inextricably linked with the political world of bureaucracy and relation building.

Cultural activities have the possibility to demonstrate the best of a nation. Cultural relations can grow naturally and organically without government intervention. A shared sense of identity can go a long way in uniting people, despite perceived differences. It is a nonviolent method of disarming hostile tendencies to promote tolerance and inclusivity.

Successfully taking a course of cultural diplomacy requires acknowledging the fact that mutual respect, peace and justice are core values and key elements in diplomacy and international law. Credibility and mutual good faith amongst the people is essential for peace, prosperity and development. Diplomacy must find a path to evolve and grow on these lines that can potentially achieve a sense of security and steadiness. In this regard, culture can play a significant role in socio-economic development, conflict prevention and reconciliation. Cultural diplomacy aims to attract and persuade other nations by promoting art and culture to enhance closer bonds and create environment of peaceful co-existence.

Pakistan is a diverse multi-cultural country, both rich in history and blessed with attractive topographical advantages. We can capitalize on these strengths and showcase our cultural capital to promote a more appealing image of our country. The rich landscape and hospitable people have much to offer those that wish to learn about our nation. The ancient historical sites and landmarks, and the beauty of our towering mountain ranges and gentle seas offer much to explore, and tourism is a key step towards increasing the understanding of other cultures. The emphasis on art and food and dance is evident through our movies and documentaries, the colourful and intricate murals on every truck that passes by and how vast and varied the street food culture is in our country.

Pakistan has a huge potential to make effective use of cultural diplomacy to build strong ties with the rest of the world and harness the mutual benefits gained from it. In this context, I believe it would benefit us tremendously to arrange cultural exchange programmes and encourage international tourism to highlight our strengths. This can help illuminate us in a different kind of light than that which currently exposes only our faults and downplays what we have struggled to achieve.

Pakistan is more than just a hopeless nation with a helpless fate. We need to build bridges instead of burning them, now more so than ever. Pakistan is situated at a crossroads, and could serve as an economic hub to the rest of the world. We must take a stand to ensure our survival. We should not let ourselves be cast down by the misfortunes we face but stand united in the face of adversity. Without trying we will only end up suffering more than ever before.

The writer is the secretary of theDepartment of Culture, Tourism & Archaeology, Balochistan.

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