“There is a Great Tradition of Good Relations between Germany and Pakistan

An interview with Amb. Jahuar Saleem on cultural diplomacy

September 24th, 2019
Christina Vassell, News from Berlin
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On 4th September, Berlin Global had the honour of visiting the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Pakistan to interview His Excellency Jahuar Saleem, serving as Ambassador of Pakistan to the Federal Republic of Germany. During the visit, they discussed their shared academic backgrounds in English (literature) and imperial history to cultural diplomacy within international affairs and the importance of nation branding to bilateral trade.

Your Excellency, when looking at your career history I noticed that you have held diplomatic assignments in Pakistan Missions abroad from Brasilia (1989-1993), Ankara (1999-2002), to serving as Ambassador to Bosnia & Herzegovina in 2008 and to Bahrain until 2014. In the present, you’re currently serving as Ambassador to Germany.

With this in mind, what inspired you to take up foreign service and what have you learned from the experiences you encountered in your roles, across these regions?
First of all, as a young teenager I travelled across Europe and the US and that inspired this idea that I should be in a career that should be international and where I could contribute to bringing people together from different cultures and countries. So, foreign service provides a very good opportunity for that. Living in different countries and cultures is a great experience, particularly when you are representing your country – every country and culture has it’s own flavour. Europe is a diplomatic place and Berlin has become a very important diplomatic capital.

What was the most challenging decision you had to make in the interest of your country?
There are always challenges in diplomacy. Countries do not always look at all issues in a similar perspective but through different perspectives sometimes. And the job of the diplomats is to bring those positions together. Having said that, between Pakistan and Germany there is a degree of shared perceptions on international issues and within international forums, we have maintained similar positions [on issues], and there is also a great deal of cooperation as well.

Has your advocacy of Pakistan faced any challenges abroad?
Pakistan is an important country within its region as the sixth largest country in terms of population in the world and first growing economy, nuclear power as well as being one of the largest Muslim countries in the world; it has a great deal of important. It is an honour to represent Pakistan but at the same time, in our region there are so many challenges; instability in Afghanistan, the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir right now, the Iran nuclear issue, the conflict in Yemen and the hostile attitudes towards Pakistan over the years – it is a difficult region. Such challenges makes it our task more challenging because we have certain perspectives, as an ambassador of Pakistan I have to project those certain perspectives. Sometimes people can think differently as well and then we [Pakistan] have an image problem. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been at the forefront of the war against terrorism for decades now and while there has been some recognition of our contributions in tackling terrorise, there are still some misperceptions or misplaced misgivings. So, correcting those misconceptions is not easy sometimes especially when you talk about image when [the world] sees you as a country which is marred.

Your Excellency, one of your many degrees is in English (literature). I too come from a background in English studies at university. From your expertise, as well as insight into international affairs, what role can literature play within cultural diplomacy?
Literature of course is about life. There are many movements within literature such as art for art's sake, and people make political statements. But I see literature as a mirror of life and that includes politics, international affairs and international economics – all of that is reflected in literature in one way or another. Pakistan has had a thriving cultural scene over the years. For example, the Berlin Literary Festival of 2018 had three writers from Pakistan who are all internationally acclaimed. Literature plays an important role in bringing people and countries together by promoting a better understanding of each other’s cultures first and foremost and [bringing awareness] to each other’s problems and challenges. Literature becomes a means to remove miscommunications and that is how I see it in regards to the literature that is emerging from Pakistan.

The Cultural Heritage of Pakistan is diversely rich and dates from the Islamic, pre-Islamic as well as prehistoric times. How much does culture influence Pakistan’s foreign policy?
Pakistan has a great cultural heritage. First of all, the region which is Pakistan today is the region that is one of the three oldest civilisations in the world nearly eight thousand years ago. We still have archeological sites and Lahore has many relics ranging from the Muslim, Hindu and Indian periods of the region to colonialism. It is very interesting that some of the major religions of the world were in the region of Pakistan. Even the textbooks pertaining to ancient civilisations cite Pakistan but because of the fact that there has been so much instability and insecurity in our region because of the hostility between different countries and Pakistan, there have been less focus on cultural heritage of this region than there ought to be. One of the endeavours we have had [at the Embassy] in Berlin is to promote a better awareness of our cultural heritage through a number of events, as well as the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) because we need a [better] understanding of each other’s cultures. Does culture play a part in policy? Of course it does. To give an example, today Hindu nationalism fashions India’s domestic policy and the marginalisation of minorities and Muslims over there. But it is also impacting inter-state relations, particularly in the case of Indian Occupied Kashmir. On the other hand, Islam has always taught peace and that is why [Pakistan’s] foreign policy promotes peace.

Another key point is Pakistan’s transition from imperial and colonial ties through to modernity and Globalisation. Pakistan recently celebrated 73rd Independence Day, which you celebrated at the Embassy along with members of the Pakistani diaspora. Has Pakistan’s colonial history posed a challenge to the country’s international relations in light of the recent events in Kashmir and hostility within the region?
Of course we have a colonial history but again so many countries in the world have colonial histories i.e. Australia, Canada. At one point ninety percent of the world was under colonialism or imperial powers. Unfortunately, the process of decolonisation that started at the end of of WWII, did not take place in a smooth manner – the British left in a hurry and upon leaving they made some disastrous decisions that plunged the whole of Asia into a sense of instability. The biggest manifestation of that is the handing over of Kashmir, a princely state on the border of Pakistan and India, where eighty percent at the border with Pakistan. So the land was mostly Pakistan. The Maharajah was Hindu but the population was approximately eighty percent Muslim and for the principle of partition laws or state succession laws as well as geographical contingency in continguous Muslim majority areas, the population rebelled against [the Maharajah]. Ever since the matter was taken to the United Nations Security Council, the Council decided as per the principle of partition and the principle of self-determination as cited in the United Nations’ charter, the people decided [the borders of Kashmir].

How effective is soft power during times of crisis to promote unity? Or should emphasis be placed on hard power?
You need both. But cultural diplomacy can be the means to bringing countries closer, to bringing peoples and communities closer because that is how we are going to understand each other. People tend to take a stand where they sit. Often the positions we take, whether politically, within our country or internationally, is dependent [and determined by] our cultural or societal contexts. The context of the transatlantic alliance is based on cultural diplomacy and the creation of the European Union has helped Western countries to cooperate as a block with more trade, exchange and to really get closer, which has brought peace and stability to Europe. Cultural diplomacy, therefore, can promote regional integration as trade is important that regard. There was a time where diplomacy was solely about politics, but in this day and age, diplomacy is not about politics alone instead, it is about trade diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy. All of which, have a role in promoting better understanding in a world that is beset with so many conflicts.

Your Excellency, in another recent meeting held in July 2019, you met with board members of DPF with a focus on promoting Pakistan’s culture in Germany. How important is it to maintain productive relations between the Embassy and community leaders whilst you are stationed in Berlin?
The Pakistani diaspora has been very active in demonstrations and the current issue of Kashmir is close to their heart. One of the roles of the Embassy of course has also been interacting with the government or opposition parties, parliamentarians who are not apart of government as well as business leaders not just in Berlin but across Germany. In the world today, opinion makers are very important and they can be anybody. The point is, in the world today, diplomacy is not conducted through narrow channels that used to be the case in the 19th Century or a big part of the 20th Century. The role of diplomacy has evolved but it has not been diminished it has expanded beyond aristocrats to citizens living in different countries.

How important is cultural diplomacy to nation branding?
This is the age of branding. Just a brand is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, however, brands are not confined to companies as countries now have brands i.e. Japan, Italy and the US all have brands as a country, and people trade based on a brand. In machinery and automobiles, Germany has a brand and therefore people want to trade with a nation based on their brand. Brands also impact tourism. For tourism, France has the best brand in the world and gets more tourists than the US because people want to see French culinary, heritage, arts and fashion – its all apart of their culture. The French have engaged in cultural diplomacy for a long period of time. Even smaller countries such as Croatia have worked on improving their national brand. Cultural diplomacy is therefore the key to branding if conducted correctly.

Your Excellency, what would you say is Pakistan’s brand or at least what is the brand that you are trying to promote during your mission in Berlin, and Germany?
As I mentioned, we have an image problem due to miscommunications and misperceptions partly due to the conflict that has affected our region. So that has affected our brand. People have associated Pakistan with violence and terrorism. I always mention that I lived in the US as a student and those were the times where cities in the US were the crime capitals of the world i.e. New York and Washington [D.C] but event hey capitalised on that. On Television, it was glamorised on shows such as NYPD and LAPD. However, countries like Pakistan that are located in unstable regions have a harder time in nation branding. But we have promoted awareness of the fact that we have archeological sites, a lot of history and there is so much art, culture and music. But we are working on it and I think gradually there will be a better awareness of Pakistan’s culture.

Your Excellency, as this interview comes to an end are there any final remarks that you would like to make, perhaps on what you anticipate the future of German-Pakistini relations to be in the coming years?
I see a very bright future of relations. There is a great tradition of good relations between the two countries and these relations are multidimensional, there are a lot of shared perceptions on international issues and there is a great deal of cooperation between the two countries on a global scale. And then we have a lot of significant relations with investments as Germany is the largest trading partner to Pakistan. Then again, Pakistan has a diaspora of about 150,000 people residing in Germany and over 5,000 students in the fields of the arts, science and technology. So, I think that relations are cooperating well and so I feel that there would be increasing cooperation and people-to-people contacts and a good future ahead.

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