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Soft power and diplomacy

The importance of ‘military diplomacy’ cannot be ignored – even though this concept is rarely addressed. The ‘Marshall Plan’ became the epitome of military diplomacy, helped achieve national objectives and played a pivotal role in improving the economic, industrial and political conditions of Europe.

The US spent a total of $13 billion to achieve its objectives in western Europe during the four-year-long period, starting from April 3, 1948. The main objectives of the Marshall Plan were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernise industries, improve European prosperity, and, most importantly, prevent the rise of communism. It can be safely said that Nato is an extension of the Marshall Plan.

Military diplomacy is not a new concept and has been in vogue for quite some time, achieving national objectives through projection of ‘soft power’.

Dr Erik Pajtinka describes military diplomacy as “a set of non-combat activities of military and civilian forces of the Ministry of Defence focused on the pursuit of foreign-policy objectives that are part of the overall state diplomacy.”

Military diplomacy, often called defence diplomacy, also complements national security and is crucial for achieving national objectives – economic, diplomatic and security. As such, the military’s role goes beyond the defence and security of the country against internal and external threats and complements in promoting peace and building sustainable relationships with other countries, thereby supplementing national efforts and overall policy objectives. Successful military diplomacy should have the wisdom and flexibility to change perceptions and mindset for achieving national objectives.

Military diplomacy in Pakistan has played a pivotal role in revitalising our foreign relations. The combined military exercises with Turkey, Russia and China have paved the way for further national, economic and diplomatic objectives and improved the overall relations with these states, as have visits to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE by the military chief. Where foreign policy objectives anticipated an unorthodox approach, military diplomacy achieved the desired results and supplemented the overall national objectives.

Military diplomacy has complemented state institutions in achieving national objectives as well as providing economic anchorage. This is evident from the exponential growth in Pakistan’s arms exports, which is a consequence of successful military diplomacy. Pakistan’s war against terrorism and the improvement in the overall internal security paradigm are success stories which created a safe environment for foreign investments. Undoubtedly, a safe and secure environment provides confidence to investors and boosts the tourism industry.

Providing security to the Chamalang coal mines, raising the special security division for the protection of CPEC routes, developing road infrastructure for CPEC and assisting the government in development and construction of the much-needed dams at considerably low costs through the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) have provided the much desired economic leverage to the government. The success of CPEC can be accredited to military diplomacy as well.

The FWO developed the Kartarpur Corridor, connecting the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan to Gurudwara Dera Baba Nanak in India and remained the main organisation for the construction of the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. This resulted in better relations with the Sikh community, projection of Pakistan as a safe place for other religions, and promotion of religious tourism. Similarly, the efforts of the Strategic Communication Organisation (SCO) in northern Pakistan are commendable as it has provided the much-needed support to CPEC projects and has persisted as the soft prong of diplomacy and nation-building tasks.

The projection of ‘soft power’ in the internal and external domain of the country has remained crucial, and military diplomacy has filled in the gaps where required. A proactive role, away from the limelight, has been the emblem of the military. After the infamous attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 in Lahore, there was a virtual ban on international cricket in Pakistan, in which India played a major role.

Despite all efforts, it seemed that international cricket would never resume in Pakistan. The soft prong of military diplomacy remained agile and proactive, by inviting military teams from Australia, England and Sri Lanka to play cricket, thus changing international perception and providing confidence to international teams. Interestingly, the matches were held in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and even Waziristan to dispel all fears.

Military diplomacy was crucial in changing international perception and the military-to-military engagements paved the way for resumption of international cricket in Pakistan. Sri Lanka was the first country that visited Pakistan in late 2019 to resume international test cricket.

Military diplomacy remains the unseen hand in national discourse and yet provides the required and desired efforts wherever needed. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) describes Pakistan’s military diplomacy as “more action, fewer words”.


Asif Iqbal, "Soft power and diplomacy," The News. 2022-03-31.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Foreign policy , Political conditions , Diplomacy , Communism , Terrorism , Dr Erik Pajtinka , Turkey , Russia , CPEC , FWO