Former ambassador gives quick lesson in diplomacy at Adab Fest
Soft power and quick diplomacy: that is what we need, said former ambassador Maleeha Lodhi in her keynote speech at the second edition of the Adab Festival.
Speaking at the Arts Council, Lodhi said that there wasn’t going to be much poetry in her speech, just diplomacy.
“My perspective this evening is as a practitioner. I am sharing what I have learnt through experience,” she said. “There was no manual for me. I did a lot of learning on the job. I hope this will help you understand a very important aspect of diplomacy that I feel is undervalued and under-appreciated in our country.”
Before discussing her personal experiences, Lodhi talked about the global landscape, new opportunities and concepts of power.
She explained that it was no longer just a country’s military or economic strength that mattered but also multipolarity, network and coalition, being quick on your feet and a nation’s brand. She said that this was important because citizen voices are now amplified by the digital age.
“Our diplomacy needs to be about public perception abroad. Diplomacy needs to be quick, nimble and imaginative. We need to capture peoples’ imagination,” she added.
Here, the diplomat claimed, one thing played an important role: Culture.
“This is soft power. Soft power grows out of appeal – art, literature and heritage. We have a boring version of diplomacy. We need to break out of that,” she said, adding that the foreign training academy and diplomats need to do a crash course called ‘know your country’ and step out of Islamabad and hear the voices in Karachi and other cities.
Sharing an experience from her last mission as Pakistan’s representative to the UN, she said that she was shocked that cultural diplomacy had never been deployed at such a global platform.
“We had never had an art exhibition or we had never had what I tried to do by inviting [classical singer] Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to sing in the halls of the UNGA – this was the first time a Pakistani concert was held in the UN General Assembly and I requested Rahat sahib to start with Allah Hu. So imagine that Allah Hu was echoing in the halls of the UNGA for the first time in the history of the UN. It was a very proud moment for me,” she said.
But how did this help Pakistan?
This was right before an important election – Pakistan was contesting for a seat to the UN Human Rights Council, Lodhi explained.
Breaking down how many votes Pakistan would need for a seat, Lodhi explained that it would not have been possible if she hadn’t shown other countries Pakistan’s culture – a side they never get to see.
Because of her efforts, Pakistan won a seat on the council.
She also mentioned an experience from her time as ambassador to the US when Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister.
At the time, the Clinton administration had put sanctions on Pakistan but the late PM had convinced him to lift them and returned embargoed military equipment. The problem was that the Republicans were in both houses and to pass this, they needed to make an initiative, which meant that Lodhi and her team would have to work hard to change their minds and build support for Pakistan.
“We learnt that without public diplomacy you cannot advance your foreign policy goal,” she said.