Image and diplomacy

Let me begin by defining what my concept of image and diplomacy is not about, and what I consider relevant. Much has been written on image projection including soft power, and on the image of diplomacy itself, hence I am not dealing with these issues. I take it for granted a country’s image and the perception thereof, whether consistent with reality or otherwise, is vitally important for all nations, and that in the task of projection and foreign policy, diplomats have a central role to play. I am concerned solely with our country, Pakistan.
What is it we wish to project, how important is diplomacy in this regard, what are the difficulties we face, how successful are we in projecting a positive image, and what must we do to better achieve it?
The external and internal policies of a state are directed at preserving and furthering national interests, but defining these is a matter of continual debate. Given Pakistan’s strategic location, its raison d’etre, and its existing and future potential, it sees itself as a developing regional power. Within the context of national interests, Pakistan’s core national interests could be identified as: territorial integrity and sovereignty; national cohesion; socioeconomic development; and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the unfinished agenda of Partition.
Some other key interests in terms of external policy are: to play a central role within the region and in the Muslim world; to become an increasingly relevant player within international fora and global coalitions, always seeking a greater role for the UN and multilateralism in global politics; to maintain strategic balance and stability in South Asia; and seeking a détente with India on terms of sovereign equality without compromising our core interests. Even at the peak of any détente with India, Pakistan will always project its own independent position and standing.
Pakistan’s major policy goal should be sustaining and increasing its relevance regionally and globally; essentially to transform our image in the comity of nations as a responsible, progressive, moderate, modern, democratic and economically buoyant Muslim state.
For these objectives, diplomacy has a key role to play. Both in seeking understanding abroad, and in understanding and conveying back home where and in which areas we have some influence and where not, but always advising the government on how to enhance relevance.
In terms of diplomacy, it is a cliché that a diplomat can fly the flag of his country no higher than at home. Like all clichés, this comprises some elements of truth and some defensive exaggeration. There are of course serious issues that cosmetics and PR cannot overcome. One overarching factor beyond our influence is that the disconnect between the Muslim World and the West is becoming more pronounced, with misperceptions increasing on both sides.
Democracy, political stability, rule of law, human rights, and combating corruption are indices for a country’s image, affecting its standing and FDI. Conversely, external perception of negative potential is a drawback.
Despite being a country with a hardworking, resilient, peaceful majority, our image is adversely affected by being assessed as a country beset by terrorism. Why has that come about? External factors such as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the attempts of Indian, Afghan and other intelligence services to destabilize Pakistan are not being taken into account. Even here, skilled diplomacy backed by evidence can help redress the situation. During the first meeting of the Joint Anti Terrorism Mechanism in 2007, I handed over concrete proofs to the Indian side. We need to give our diplomats more such conclusive material to project.
Diplomacy in image projection has certain limitations in terms of ground realities, but nonetheless can play an active role, given adequate resources and inputs. What are these supportive factors? Let me list some of them: more resources for projecting Pakistan; better utilization of our diaspora abroad; more people to people contact including between academics and media with their counterparts abroad; more facilitation for our businessmen to travel abroad; more opportunities for foreign students to study here, and for our students abroad at all levels particularly in the scientific, technical, and management fields. Most important of all is getting an effective grip on terrorism. The implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism arising from the national consensus after the tragic consequences of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar would be the most important factor in improving our image.
In terms of process, we must further support our diplomats in delivering abroad even more than they are doing now. For this, two institutional prerequisites need to be put in place. First of all, working towards a more proactive, trade oriented, specialised and larger foreign service, with its own recruitment rather than through civil services induction. Qualifications should be more specialized, and remuneration more commensurate with the job requirements overseas. Secondly, effective diplomacy requires all aspects of diplomatic activity including press and commercial, to come without exception under the purview of the Foreign Office and our Ambassadors abroad.
While Pakistan sets its house in order, external efforts and image projection need not be put on hold. At the same time, a prevailing confidence deficit also needs to be addressed. We are a nuclear power and should behave with responsible self-confidence.
In terms of diplomacy, we can hold our heads high. Internationally and in the UN, our diplomacy and diplomats have always been considered amongst the most active and able. They have kept alive as an international and bilateral issue the indomitable struggle of the Kashmiri people. In the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva and in the UN General Assembly, they have consistently prevented moves to adversely affect our nuclear capability and national security. Since first articulating our opposition to any expansion in the Permanent Members category of the UN Security Council in Bandung in 1955, we have prevented this from occurring despite India’s best efforts.

The writer is a retired Pakistani Ambassador and a distinguished visiting fellow at the National Defence University

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

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