As mentioned in my last piece, it’s appreciable that the Foreign Office has initiated a public diplomacy initiative in association with Coke Studio. This can go a long way in connecting global audiences with Pakistan’s unique musical heritage with the potential to host such events in major cities across the world. How important music can be in promoting a softer, kinder image of a country can be gauged from the huge impact that the American pop culture had on the Boomer and Gen X generations. The effect it apparently had on the other side of the ‘iron curtain’ of those years was even greater. Western music groups such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Wham, A-ha and INXS or solo artists such as Elvis Presley, Belinda Carlisle, Corey Hart and Michael Jackson did more for the West than any military general could have ever aspired to contribute. And Hollywood was much more effective than Pentagon in winning that war for the West. The sustainability of Western pop culture that successfully assimilated with local audiences was remarkable in the face of all the anti-west feelings inspired by various military misadventures after World War II, such as the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The American soft power survived the repeated failures of its hard power projection and still gives it a unique advantage against any emerging competitors. Unfortunately, Islamabad’s overemphasis on conflict-centred diplomacy allowed New Delhi to usurp the soft power Pakistan’s glorious cultural heritage would have allowed. At times, Pakistani music and dance tradition got labelled as Indian. Its cuisine, globally known, sells as Indian food in certain countries such as France and Canada which I witnessed. Although Pakistan inherited a much bigger portion of Punjab along with its unmatchable capital Lahore, the Punjabi traditions of music and dance such as Bhangra became known as Indian. The great Mughal heritage was also labelled as Indian despite Pakistan having a considerable number of architectural gems. Bollywood nibbled on its heritage of poetry, music, dance and diction and branded it as Indian, contributing more to India’s global outreach in the process than anything its diplomats could have ever accomplished; other than the novel Slumdog Millionaire penned by Vikas Swarup, a now-retired Indian diplomat, which inspired the Hollywood movie of the same name. Islamabad’s overemphasis on conflict-centred diplomacy allowed New Delhi to usurp the soft power Pakistan’s glorious cultural heritage would have allowed While Pakistan’s foreign policy architects may have seen better times, there has been a limited application of soft power as a diplomatic tool of importance over the years. Exceptions such as the remarkable public and cultural diplomacy initiatives undertaken by brilliant envoys such as Maleeha Lodhi and Jauhar Saleem have been few and far between. Part of the reason is a Foreign Office culture where there is a premium on toeing the line and making hawkish noises, as if it is the only measure of one’s patriotism, only to manage plush postings and assignments. There is also an overemphasis on multilateral diplomacy, notably UN-related as if that is where the most important international issues get adjudicated. In fact, some common themes running in the choice of Foreign Office leadership for the last few times are a UN assignment or two, an overtly serious demeanour, aversion to cultural and public diplomacy, a penchant for sounding ominous, and a straitjacketed thinking. Consequently, we see a monochromatic approach to diplomacy which has rendered our diplomatic endeavours dour and devoid of strategic thinking. Or we see a penchant for jingoistic bravado in the tradition of Maula Jutt which does not go very well with the global audiences of the current era. As someone who belongs to the millennial generation, my extensive travelling across the West has made me realise how developed countries invest in soft power. They do so by building a beautiful brand that draws upon their heritage, history and culture. Whether it is the US or the UK, or France, Germany and Italy, there is a story that’s been carefully crafted and sold. One that makes everyone crave to visit these countries, do business with these countries, and at a collective level, to be friends with these countries. This isn’t exactly the case with Pakistan, which has no story to tell about itself other than some cold facts and misperceptions which make others wish to keep a safe distance. In this day and age, digital diplomacy is also very important. The power of social media is undisputed and one cannot ignore it as a foreign policy projection tool. The newly created Strategic Communications Division (SCD) in the Foreign Office has an important role in this regard. Its plans for collaboration with the Foreign Service Academy (FSA) and think tanks such as the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) to provide the young diplomats with essential skills to deal with the ever-changing dynamics of digital diplomacy are a step in the right direction. But what is really needed is a change at the macro-level in the Foreign Office. A change in organisational culture. Creativity, initiative, drive, strategic thinking and penchant for public diplomacy needs to be encouraged rather than bureaucratic traits. Brilliant, media-savvy diplomats are what Islamabad should aspire to produce and assign to leadership roles, not Babus. We need people who can duly project soft power and pursue public diplomacy. In a world where wars of narratives have replaced the wars of tanks and guns, Pakistan needs to groom envoys who can build and project its soft power deftly and desirably. The Foreign Office — its window to the world — cannot operate as if still living in the world that existed before the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The demands of the 21st century require fresh thinking and a fresh approach to diplomacy. The winds of change also have to blow in the old Scheherazade’s direction. The writer is Associate Editor (Diplomatic Affairs), Daily Times. He tweets @mhassankhan06.