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Pakistan needs to get serious in Public Diplomacy, says Ambassador Abdul Basit

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Islamabad, Pakistan: Former Ambassador and Foreign Affairs expert Abdul Basit has said that Pakistan needs to get serious in Public Diplomacy.

In a conversation with Dispatch News Desk (DND) News Agency, Ambassador maintained that unfortunately, our (Pakistan) Foreign Office has no emphasis on Public Diplomacy.

Some important points of his conversation with DND are hereunder:

In the contemporary era, the use of social media as a tool of Public Diplomacy gains significant importance. As, there was a time when only national TV, radio, and newspapers were the most effective tools of public diplomacy. However, things changed altogether with the emergence of social media.

Public Diplomacy means to get public support internally regarding the foreign policy of the respective country by highlighting various issues of state interests through different channels such as press statements, social media, visiting educational institutes, think tanks, media houses, besides reaching out to the people abroad to convince them about your state policy. Sometimes you build pressure on the governments which don’t stand with you on certain issues at a particular time.

The importance of using social media as a tool of Public Diplomacy could be judged from our responses to Arnab Goswami’s startling revelation that he was aware in advance of the Indian attack on Balakot. Foreign Office tweeted that was followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qurashi and subsequently the Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted as well

Our ambassadors visiting universities abroad and addressing pressers which were also part of public diplomacy; however, their public participation was very thin and limited.

The emergence of social media created great complications. As there is no colder war as a number of transformations took place, where confrontation, competition, and cooperation run parallel. In such a scenario, the social media role gains significant importance in public diplomacy.

Ambassador Abdul Basit is a retired Pakistani diplomat who served also as former high commissioner of Pakistan to India. He is the President of, Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), Islamabad. PICSS is an Islamabad-based Think Tank.

Our diplomats have to do a number of things simultaneously through Public Diplomacy in itself is a great demanding job.

German and Chinese ambassadors in Islamabad remained quite active on Twitter. We also followed suit but it is not at the level which is needed to promote the country’s narrative and counter it effectively mainly due to the absence of clarity in our policy direction. We are often clueless about our state narrative due to which we could not put consistent coherent efforts into it.

Ambassadors and diplomats are trying to build the country’s image abroad through social media; however, unfortunately, our diplomats are not too much active on this front, as there is no emphasis on Public Diplomacy in our headquarters. Our diplomats have to do a number of things simultaneously through Public Diplomacy in itself is a great demanding job.

If Public Diplomacy has been given as an additional job to an ambassador, they will obviously do it as extra work since their main responsibilities are something else. Unfortunately, our foreign office has no emphasis on this subject hitherto.

Though the incumbent government has taken some steps and tried to set up a Public Diplomacy division that I started long ago in 2009, which is now being gradually given some practical shape and some people are being hired in order to give some focus to the public diplomacy

However, Public Diplomacy could only pay dividends when there is clarity in policy which is unfortunately missing presently.

The importance of using social media as a tool of Public Diplomacy could be judged from our responses to Arnab Goswami’s startling revelation that he was aware in advance of the Indian attack on Balakot. Foreign Office tweeted that was followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qurashi and subsequently the Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted as well. It was the moment when the whole nation started tweeted and it created a noise. We think that perhaps with one tweet or release of pressure, the Public Diplomacy job has come to an end but it is nothing but is tantamount to deceive oneself.

I don’t see our colleagues abroad are not active on social media and they don’t have too much following on twitters; however, with the passage of time when our state institutions are getting stronger, we can’t ignore the area of social media in Public Diplomacy

Public Diplomacy is a challenging area, which is very difficult to sustain a narrative and keep an issue alive for a longer time. We don’t have the institutional organizational capacity to sustain a narrative for a long and to counter it effectively.

For instance, we prepared good dossiers against India which we presented as how Indian is involved in carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan, besides using Afghan soil to create chaos in the country. Pakistan announced this with a big bang, which was followed by pressers and statements; however, soon it lost the attraction because in Public Diplomacy there is a need to work behind the scene.  Public Diplomacy is a collective effort.

Though, I don’t see our colleagues abroad are not active on social media and they don’t have too much following on twitters; however, with the passage of time when our state institutions are getting stronger, we can’t ignore the area of social media in Public Diplomacy because it is the tool through which instantly one can judge public response that helps know the public thinking. And subsequently, it also helps know the perception of the people eternally and internally because the message reaches across the globe with one click.

Therefore, we need to pay attention to it and firstly we should strengthen our organizational structure and people are needed to be trained properly in this regard. Along with social media, other traditional tools should also be used and our diplomats should reach out to the host countries, should go to the editorial boards, think tanks, media houses educational institutions. Our colleagues should ensure presence everywhere. There is a resources issue and some other issues as well due to which we couldn’t focus on Public Diplomacy properly as it demanded but time ripe to focus on it and needs to bring clarity in our policy as only than Public Diplomacy could yield results.

We have a culture of fear that diplomats will face the music if they did wrong tweets and at that time no one will be stood by them because diplomacy is a very sensitive matter. So, unfortunately, we have this weakness in our system, which is needed to be addressed on a priority basis to get the desired results on the front of public diplomacy.

Central Desk
Central News Desk.

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