If Pakistan’s Foreign Office means business and seeks to prove Prime Minister Imran Khan wrong (who said FO bureaucracy is not up to the mark), here is the task cut out for them: improving Pakistan-EU relations and they have to start with France. Yes, you heard it, France, yes, you might be thinking of the messy handling of TLP. Get over it, fringe groups are everywhere. This is not the one issue we have a problem with. This is how you project soft power and check “others’ perception of Pakistan, which is the challenge. First thing first, we need to find out what Pakistan’s perception, scope, opportunities and challenges are in France-Pakistan bilateral relations. Pakistan’s poor image and passive anti-Pakistan bias is almost structured in France. France-India’s bilateral cooperation in defence, nuclear energy and other sectors was the main, if not sufficient reason. Clearly this fact is a hurdle to unfolding the full potential of Pakistan-France relations but it does not foreclose all avenues of cooperation between the two counties. Pakistan really needs to de-hyphenate itself from India in French thinking and decision making. The lure of Indian market and other interests of France should not be our issue. Pakistan needs to recognise the fact that foreign policy is not a zero-some game nor based on binary relations. As part of its focus four zones should remain part of its long term Foreign policy trajectory: First, the West led by the US including the EU and important capitals like Paris, Berlin and Post Brexit London. Second, China; Third Middle East and Muslim world; and fourth Russia and its Euro Asia region. Since the focus of foreign policy has been already shifting for many important countries from Geo-politics to Geo-economics, Pakistan also really needs to redirect its foreign policy super tank towards such goal substantively. Pakistan-France relations are important for the following reasons: France is a permanent Security Council Member, fifth largest economy of the world. It has huge soft power: art, culture and old civilisation, sizeable Muslim population including increasingly significant Pakistani population e.g. around ten percent. Islam is the second largest religion. France has also hard power and clout in the EU and leverage on Muslim counties not only in the Middle East but also in North Africa. Both countries are victim of terrorism and have different expertise to share and deal with this menace. Business wise, French companies like Renault, Total and ENGE are already investing in Pakistan including Balochistan. Pakistan needs a long term and medium term strategy to expand its diplomatic, political, economy and cultural relations with France more; importantly it needs to improve its image as part of long term strategy. And soft power is the tool to improve image: 1) We need to start working on soft image from tomorrow: Pakistan has serious soft power deficit accrued over decades for French political elite as it’s a country associated with negative interest: terrorism, militancy and bad relations with the West. The killing of 2003 French engineers was one such unfortunate incident to have contributed to negative perception of Pakistan. For French people Pakistan means “Taliban”. We need to have a ten years strategy in culture, art, political and economic areas to turn around this bad image. Some measures can be taken fairly quickly: A) Art exhibition: Pakistan has rich Buddhist heritage and French people will see showcases in any French art gallery. B) Women Week: French people love Pakistani dresses. They will buy and it can be a good revenue generation. Any exhibition in Paris will raise awareness. C) Pakistani weddings can be of great source to attract French people’s attention. D) Film and festivals are also important to showcase Pakistan’s contributions. E) Kowali is favoured by westerns and Pakistan should work on Kawali as a potent soft power tool across the board. F) Pakistani community is now more visible and can engage MPs in their constituencies. Interaction with them will help alleviate Pakistani image. G) Interaction with France should be expanded. Only policy makers and politicians with the right communication skills and strategy should be sent to engage. “Please do not send politicians who have only constituency skills in Pakistan as they do more damage than good”, advised by a French ThinkTank. H) Academicians, Media person, thinkTanks and civil society members should also engage their counterparts in seeking Pakistani narrative. All attempts should not aim at proving Pakistan as a gala land: we should have a candid discussion with the French on all our challenges, paradoxes and opportunities and find common ground. The Embassy in France is important and can be supplemented by above exchanges. Yet the right political appointee will be better than a career diplomat who has a disconnect with priorities of the government and foreign office. The Embassy should help with talking points and establishing connections and chasing follow ups. Additional Secretaries who have worked in commerce and trade ministries and have the necessary skills should be part of appointments in the embassy as a policy. Though for me the ideal will be taking over of foreign policy ministry by the Finance Minister and Finance Bureaucracy to lead Pakistan in the era of business and trade diplomacy 201. Terrorism: Where the interest of the two counties converge is terrorism: it is one such era that Pakistan has challenge and opportunity in expanding Pakistan-France relations: ISIS is present threat to France and a gathering threat to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia in eventual post-Syria-Iraq defeat of the group. Pakistan can showcase its skills and expertise in helping France and other countries as well to stem the course of this menace as part of counterterrorism and intel sharing efforts. Pakistan also needs to improve talking points for French political elite dealing with Pakistan on militants linked with Jihadi insurgency in Afghanistan and also de-radicalisation of ex Kashmiri jihadi elements. This will help in a big way to promote Pakistan’s narrative in the context of Af-Pak controversies and also Kashmir as genuine indigenous insurgency as opposed to “sponsored-Jihadi militancy”. ISI input: As a drastic measure, the Pakistani strategic and security narrative will be listened to, only from a top ISI emissary with great communication skills and communication strategy. If he or she goes to Paris and to explain in a seminar Pakistan’s viewpoint and also send a strong message like this: Pakistan will no more be following and implementing the agendas of the West including the US or any other country nor it will serve as “backyard” of Afghanistan or “backyard” of India. The reason for this drastic suggestion is: it is common perception in France that Pakistan’s establishment and its premier agency, ISI, has been formulating strategic and security policies of the country and only they will make sense if directly engaged in public discourse. In my candid opinion, everybody will love to come to this seminar and listen to Pakistan’s national narrative. Towards greater economic links: There have been some good interactions at bilateral levels. Pakistan’s politicians and ministers have been to Paris many times and met private sector and union leaders. Yet one challenge is since mainstream French banks are not prepared to finance French investors for investing in Pakistan, they (investors) are facing capital shortage. Main reason being advanced by these banks is that since their assets are in the US, they fear possible sanctions by the Congress against Pakistan for harbouring groups or with volatile Afghanistan or bad Af-Pak relations, and the Congress has prerogative powers to impose sanctions, they may face consequences for investing in Pakistan. The Indian lure of market and other lucrative contracts in nuclear and armaments simply scared French political elite into enhancing bilateral relations with Pakistan till recently. But for Pakistan it is important to work on its potential as after CPEC, it has a huge area of positive interest to attract French investors through robust economic diplomacy and engagement. Kashmir: There is a strong realisation in foreign policy elite in France that India has mishandled the Kashmir situation and created a mess. They are also conveying to India in behind-the door-pronouncements to improve the human rights situation. However, their business links factor in further pushing India. For Pakistan there is a huge scope to lobby French elite on the Kashmir situation in the following ways: Kashmiri leaders and organisations with credibility should engage and the government of AJK should lead in putting Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir. Great opportunities are Kashmir one-day hearings in French Senate and National Assembly where Kahsmiri leaders can flag the ugly situation in IOK. Kashmiri diaspora is a big source to be rallied in France as they are emotionally so close to the situation but genuine leadership and community leaders should be encouraged to lobby against India on Kashmir. Pakistani diaspora can also write letters to their MPs. Engagements with ThankTanks and media by Kashmiri political elite and civil society members also help to highlight Indian atrocities in IOK. It has to be a sustained campaign to continue to put pressure on India and dent into its soft image in France. Right communication and PR strategy is a must to effectively deliver a message. Sponsoring French think tanks and civil society members to Pakistan for added interactions is also a better way to engage and shape public opinion of relevant policy elites working on France’s India policy. The challenge for our policy makers and executioners is simple: The world is pragmatic enough and can not discount the potential of Indian opportunities for the sake of Pakistan though. We need to realise Pakistan itself is becoming an emerging economic area of interest, India can not dwarf it provided we have the right strategies, will and priorities in working in different areas of our bilaterals. Dear Foreign Office, the choice is yours.