Assessing the Significance of Public Diplomacy in Pak-Afghan Ties

Ayesha Azmat Awan

Afghanistan, known as the “Cockpit of Asia,” is important not only strategically, but also culturally, geographically, and politically, and is regarded as one of the most important next-door neighbor’s by Pakistan. Throughout history, bandits, merchants, and visitors have flocked to the Indian subcontinent, crossing the Khyber Pass and the lands of Sindh and Punjab from Afghanistan.

History demonstrates that the peoples of the two states maintained constant contact. Following independence, both Pakistan and India expanded their ties with Afghanistan in accordance with their national interests. By default, Pakistan and Afghanistan share more common ground; however, as a result of the unintentional clash of interest, ridges and valleys are to be treated as normal in their relationship, and because of the overwhelming similarity, bilateral brotherhood remains part of their relationship since decades.

Public diplomacy is essential to the advancement of public relations at the national and international level. Through public diplomacy, people will learn about various types of events all over the world, in the context of cultural change, shared values, customs, and traditions, and all of the various perspectives. During the Cold War, public diplomacy was commonly practiced; however, after the collapse of the USSR, the concept of public diplomacy began to fade, both academically and practically.

Nevertheless, the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States of America revived the concept of public diplomacy and it was practiced again by the states. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, public diplomacy was notable for being supported by 21st-century technological developments and, of course, the media. In today’s world, diplomats are authorized to conduct efficient and effective public diplomacy with the assistance of state-of-the-art public diplomacy tools.

The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, were a horrific tragedy, but it appears to have had far-reaching consequences in the world’s political and social arena. Following the terrorist attacks on the United States, US authorities responded quickly, blaming the Taliban administration in Afghanistan and, ultimately, the Al-Qaida network.

As a result, the United States has concentrated its efforts in this region of the world in order to combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Pakistan, as Afghanistan’s closest neighbor, faced a number of challenges in this political context. It is important to note that the September 11th terrorist attacks appear to have resulted in dramatic changes in the global political arena in general, and in Pakistan-Afghan relations in particular. From a historical standpoint, it is clear that the two countries have not had a long-term, sincere relationship since the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. In the context of the historical events that occurred in Afghanistan, it is emphasized that the US and Pakistan, as well as the media, tended to their respective countries’ foreign policy vis-à-vis Pak-Afghan relations before and after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Because of the two states’ specific geographical location, there was a significant impact of global and regional dynamics of the world order. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there were more pro-Soviet and anti-Pakistan sentiments in Kabul, but Pakistan has opened its arms and welcomed over 3 million Afghan refugees. Although the US-led attack on Afghanistan, as well as the long-term presence of a foreign occupying force, stirred up a lot of emotions in the direction of Pak-Afghan relations, the constant human relations, mutual assistance, and geographical proximity prevented many crises from spiraling into uncontrollable levels.

In general, the two countries have maintained strong political, cultural, strategic, and diplomatic ties. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, relations between the two countries will be evaluated taking in to account the engagement of the United States. The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11 is predominantly defined by United States invasion and its support for the Afghan government.

During last two decades, Pak-Afghan ties have been exceptionally impacted by the US interests in the region. Moreover, this relationship can also be viewed by particularly emphasizing on the media in the United States and Pakistan as the primary instrument of public diplomacy. According to US foreign policy, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan were unchanged before and after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Both before and after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan-Afghan relations have predominantly remained unchanged, as have their governments’ policies. An evaluation of ties over the last two decades reveals that as the policies of two states have changed, there is a greater impact on masses of both the states as the border is interconnected and there is a broader connectivity from both sides of the border. Moreover, Media of both states has also played a great impact in furthering bilateral ties.

As a result, both states’ media supports their respective national policies, while a thorough analysis of bilateral ties confirm the existence of a positive relationship between the media and foreign policy. While Pakistan is one of the countries that had recognized the Taliban administration, it has changed its foreign policy in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani media acted in accordance with changes in national policies. Though terrorist incidents on Pakistani armed forces as well as the civilians infuriated Pakistani state and the society and a blame game between two states was initiated; bilateral ties witnessed a see-saw relationship.

Pakistan’s economy, on the other hand, has taken a significant hit. According to a number of prominent Pakistani analysts, the cost of Pakistan’s war on terror was significantly higher than the financial assistance provided by the United States of America.

While it is a fact that relations between two states have been predominantly strained during last two decades, public diplomacy efforts can never be undermined. Traditional Jirgas between Pakistani and Afghan people, optimistic role of media from both sides, influential role of think-tanks, politicians and civil society are few steps that need to be promoted by the governments of both states.

Neighbor’s cannot be changed is an old saying that is genuinely accurate in the relations of Pak-Afghan ties. The aforementioned steps are expected to contribute positively in strengthening bilateral ties of Pakistan and Afghanistan.



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