By Shazia Cheema
“To resist the idea of art having no utility is to resist the market’s attempt to commodify it”
As George Orwell said, “all art is propaganda”. The importance is to distinguish between “good” and “bad” propaganda.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pakistan has established a Public Diplomacy Division in order to increase interaction with a wide range of governmental and non-governmental actors to:
• Project state policy
• Promote national interest
• Build a positive image
• Create a better understanding of its foreign policy decisions within Pakistan and abroad.
There is no doubt that projecting state policy is an important component of Public Diplomacy and the second aim to Promote national interest is the same as the first one so one should club both in one. Building a positive image of Pakistan had been a part of the Soft Image of Pakistan Project. This had been in official documents since the Musharraf era and his Moderate Enlightenment Concept was branded as a tool to promote the soft image of Pakistan abroad, as a tolerant society and friendly country.
Does Public Diplomacy is same as mentioned in the aims of the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
According to an official document of the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan the Foreign Minister’s Public Diplomacy initiative has been responsible for:
• Crafting & Launching VISION F.O: A platform for thought leadership within the Foreign Office
• Creating & Launching the New Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website
• Launching an app, connecting the Foreign Minister with all officers of the Foreign Office:
• Creating, Launching and Curating a series of monthly Public/Private stakeholder sessions:
• Curating a series of committees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which include thus far: a focus on digital diplomacy and cultural diplomacy, respectively.
• Creating branding collateral including visual design identities, videos etc
Do all actions mentioned above include any Public Diplomacy in foreign countries?, because, in Public Diplomacy, the target group is foreign countries and their population.
The classical concept of Public Diplomacy mentioned in the Britannica Encyclopedia says that Public Diplomacy is People’s Diplomacy. In simple words, government-sponsored efforts aimed at communicating directly with foreign publics are called Public Diplomacy.
Public Diplomacy is a transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with the public in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.
International relations scholar Joseph Nye has coined the term “Soft Power” which has become a core concept in Public Diplomacy studies and this term refers to good propaganda. Soft power can be used via branding, incorporating Public Relations and Public Diplomacy.
Methods can include statements by decision-makers, purposeful campaigns conducted by the government, and efforts to persuade international media to portray official policies favorably to foreign audiences.
The peculiarity of Public Diplomacy suggests good propaganda as a basic tool
According to my understanding, Public Diplomacy is a transparent tool, by which a sovereign country communicates with the public in other countries, aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.
The peculiarity of Public Diplomacy suggests good propaganda as a basic tool. Not going into detail about bad propaganda, good propaganda requires extensive use of aesthetics. Meaning by, all art form could be considered the primary tool for public diplomacy. West is using soft tools (art forms) predominantly post-cold war. The sole purpose of that is mediation between host and target population. Mainstream cinema, theater, music, and literature (fiction) are proven to play the impactful role of mediator.
We are all exposed to mainstream Hollywood cinema to the extent that crossed the line of cultural shock. Narrative and cinematography have become relatable and that paves the way for propaganda and we all are directly or indirectly witness and victim at the same time.
Russia, China, India, and United States invite thousands of foreign students from their target countries for education on scholarships
To my understanding Public Diplomacy precisely advocates good propaganda mainly because no crime against humanity involves in it contrary to bad propaganda (at least in the tangible form).
The tools of soft powers needed for achieving diplomatic goals need enormous financial resources. Pakistan Foreign Office officially doing remarkably low in this regard. The reason could be, that we still do not consider soft tools/artforms, powerful enough to invest on, secondly, our mainstream art medium is not popular in the target countries so it could be even lengthier to polish it, refine it and then count on it.
If we compare Pakistan’s vision and action regarding Public Diplomacy with China, India, United States, and Russia, we feel that the countries mentioned here have a clear cut policy of targeting foreign population in respective countries.
For example, Russia, China, India, and United States invite thousands of foreign students from their target countries for education on scholarships. India is targeting Central Asia for student-exchange and expert-exchange programs with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Thousands of Central Asian students go to Indian universities and institutions for higher education.
China targets student-exchange programs, student invitation programs, expert-exchange programs from the Far East, Africa, Central Asia, and Pakistan. Russia does the same for Indian students and students from Central Asia and far away countries Cambodia, Vietnam, and several countries of South America. While Pakistan invites students from Afghanistan for the student-scholarship program.
Countries like China, Russia, India, Germany, France, and even Bangladesh hire Public Diplomacy or Public Relations experts from the private sector mostly from academia who has knowledge of the local language of the area of work
We understand financial constraints for Pakistan, therefore, Islamabad prefers hiring Lobby Firms in North America instead of using other tools like inviting students, academia, experts, and decision-makers through exchange and scholarship programs and promoting culture through Documentaries, Music shows, films, etc.
There is no doubt that showcasing Pakistani cuisines is becoming a feature where Pakistani diplomats are inviting guests to embassies at lunches and dinners but this practice is only at a small scale where usually embassy’s premises are used to host guests because Pakistan embassies are apparently short of economic resources to hold cuisines weeks or cuisines day in foreign countries.
Pakistani Ambassadors are practically overloaded with administrative issues as well as of classical diplomacy of dealing with foreign offices of respective host countries
Holding trade road-shows are also without consistency and continuity. Yes, Pakistani ambassadors are visiting Think Tanks and universities in host countries and this initiative is bringing results.
Countries like China, Russia, India, Germany, France, and even Bangladesh hire Public Diplomacy or Public Relations experts from the private sector mostly from academia who has knowledge of the local language of the area of work and they constantly meet academia, journalists, writers, Think Tanks and important personalities of the host country while Pakistan expect all these from Ambassadors who practically are overloaded with administrative issues as well as of classical diplomacy of dealing with foreign offices of respective host countries.
Desire to do Public Diplomacy is there at the Foreign Office of Pakistan, expertise is there but our career diplomats need resources and a clear policy of executing Public Diplomacy in foreign countries.
There are several more basic actions Pakistani missions abroad are yet to do in Public Diplomacy and Pakistani Public Diplomacy looks like invert—–domestic and within the country and this is actually against the basic principle of Public Diplomacy that is international targeting public of host country in the respective area of work.
Recently I saw a photo where Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was handing over Kashmir dossier to Chairman of Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs Mushahid Hussain Syed for the education of Senators of Pakistan. No doubt this is an excellent initiative of sharing Kashmir issue information among parliamentarians within Pakistan but without results, if the same material is not shared with senators of foreign countries by our senators.
I wish to cite some points raised by Foreign Affairs expert and former Ambassador Abdul Basit in one of his recent talks. He says that Public Diplomacy means to get public support internally regarding Foreign Policy of the respective country (where the Pakistani Mission is working) 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 Pakistani state policy.
Ambassador Abdul Basit considers that sometimes we build pressure on the foreign governments through their pubic which don’t stand with us on certain issues at a particular time.
Public Diplomacy could never be domestic and never ever between host countries’ diplomates. It must go outward instead of inward and in circles.
Ambassador Basit believes that 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,” Ambassador Basit believes.
Public diplomacy / soft power / good propaganda requires systematic assimilation between mainstream art mediums and foreign policy
The desire to do Public Diplomacy is there at the Foreign Office of Pakistan, expertise is there but our career diplomats need resources and a clear policy of executing Public Diplomacy in foreign countries.
Public diplomacy / soft power / good propaganda requires systematic assimilation between mainstream art mediums and foreign policy. Therefore it must be different from area to area and target population to the target population. However, it requires extensive efforts in terms of kind and cash, therefore, needs full cooperation across the board. It may sound unapproachable in our scenario but it has to be dealt with like that. Public Diplomacy could never be domestic and never ever between host countries’ diplomates. It must go outward instead of inward and in circles.
Public Diplomacy cannot be done by just opening new Divisions or placing Desks without resources. Such action can be a perfect attempt to attract media attention and win appreciation from diplomatic circles but the execution of Public Diplomacy needs financial resources —I remember my class 5th Wall-Chart with the following line——-
Money Makes Mare Go
Note: The writer Shazia Cheema is an analyst writing for national and international media outlets including the Nation, Pakistan Today, Pakistan Observer, Eurasia Diary, InSight, and Mina News Agency. She heads the DND Thought Center. She did her MA in Cognitive Semiotics from Aarhus University Denmark and is currently registered as a Ph.D. Scholar of Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague. She can be reached at her: Twitter @ShaziaAnwerCh Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.