Loudspeaker diplomacy and its implications |By Cdre Baber Bilal Haider (R)

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Loudspeaker diplomacy and its implications


DIPLOMATIC communication skills play a vital role in interstate relations. The same is true for leadership while dealing with internal matters.

Unfortunately, Pakistani leadership since its independence has not given due importance to this critical factor of leadership.

In the 21st century, use of the electronic and social media has further compounded this important factor.

Now, nothing is hidden from the public, whereas, news, messages or even blunders are shared in minutes, worldwide. Moreover, the camera captures and retains all gestures and dialogues.

Even unintended/unofficial comments, acts and private communications haunt the speaker throughout his or her life.

Unfortunately, social, and electronic media are also being used for twisting the facts, and even projecting narratives against the truth.

Pakistan’s history is full of examples where leadership used the “Loudspeaker Diplomacy” option to relay their points of view.

Be an issue of adopting Urdu as national language, or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hatred speeches against East Pakistan’s winning party (Awami Muslim League) and Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman.

Bhutto’s famous public statement of 18 February 1970 while addressing a public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan Lahore stating that “Whoever goes to East Pakistan, I’ll break his legs”, is a case in point. This statement is considered the first formal building block of Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s open preference of the USA over the (former) Soviet Union and joining US military Camps set the stage of Soviet Union annoyance against Pakistan.

On the other hand, the USA knew that Pakistan has openly burnt its boats as for as Soviet Union is concerned and thereafter, used us as a client state till todate.

Later leadership also opted for the same approach while facilitating US access to China (Clandestine visit of US Secretary of State), against the Soviet Union interests.

Coming to Pakistan’s nuclear capability, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s announcement of “We will eat grass but will make atom bomb”, annoyed his friends in the Americas and West. Probably, it was the root cause of his downfall.

But later Governments dealt with nuclear issues professionally and kept them in the haze till the explosion in 1998. Pakistani leadership has been claiming openly to address China’s Malacca dilemma, through CPEC.

Although great nations like China do not have any dilemmas, it is a poor country like us which usually faces such scenarios.

Chinese leadership does not see CPEC and BRI from these aspects. Moreover, Pakistan and China had operational all-weather road links since 1976, ie, Karakoram Highway (KKH).

Thus, CPEC did not bring any material change for China but an economic aspect of CPEC was more rewarding for Pakistan.

China’s dependence on Malacca Strait will continue; even CPEC is fully operational to its designed capacity.

But undue noise by our leadership in claims of helping China has put us unnecessarily into the eye of the storm.

Similarly, supporting China on South China Sea issue, although tactically a correct option, but expressing openly in public, that too repeatedly has annoyed many traditional friends of the Far East.

The same is the case of Pakistan’s open refusal to Saudi Arabia to support their effort to deal with the Yemen crisis, which did not go well with our traditional friendly backyard.

Later also, Pakistan’s open offer to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, without adequate homework, backfired right from the beginning and caused diplomatic embarrassment.

Last but not the least, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s open “Absolutely Not”, although very courageous statement, did not go well in Washington. The same could have been delivered in lower tones and through diplomatic channels.

Similarly, our handling of US/NATO withdrawal, Taliban success in Afghanistan and relating it to “Fatah e Mubeen” was an apt example of loudspeaker diplomacy.

There are very few examples available in Pakistan’s history when leadership opted for more sober tones and diplomatic channels to relay their points of view.

One such example is President Zia’s “Cricket Diplomacy” visit to India to deliver a strong message to the Indian leadership of the consequences of continuous military deployment all along our borders.

The message was so powerful that Indians could not do any further adventure but opted to withdraw.

Lately, PAF has shown professionalism while dealing Indian air challenge after Pulwama incident and subsequent handling of captured Indian Pilot.

Similarly, Pakistan Navy has also shown maturity while dealing with Indian Submarine ingress in Pakistani waters. Government also handled the issues with utmost care and diplomacy, without any media hype.

Israel, an undeclared nuclear state, has never spoken a single word at any level about its nuclear capability a beautiful example of statesmanship by the successive Israeli leadership.

Similarly, our great friend China has never used any threatening language openly against Taiwan, North Korea, India or South China Sea issues despite having power and resources.

On the internal front, our political leadership of both camps has miserably failed to develop a culture of tolerance and often use derogatory language openly against each other.

This hatred or foul language trickles down to the lower cadre as hate and, sometimes, sources of physical conflict. Similar was seen in the selection of cricket team for T20 World Cup when re-adjustment at a later stage brought undue embarrassment to PCB.

Similarly, asking Imran Khan to talk to New Zealand Prime Minister about the cancellation of the tour was simply a diplomatic blunder, both by Foreign Office and Cricket Board. States do not take decisions on a phone call. It is only us, who can switch sides on a simple call.

Our political leadership usually opts for loudspeaker diplomacy by making embarrassing statements to cover their blunders and incompetence, rather than keeping quiet. Probably, they believe that trumpeting their points of view repeatedly will win arguments.

Unfortunately, media is now much more powerful, knowledgeable which can bring more embarrassment and humiliation instead of laurels.

It is an Absolute Imperative for the Government to avoid “Loudspeaker Diplomacy” and let the professional of the Foreign Office deal with international issues.

On the internal front, the leadership of both camps must understand the consequences of poor word selection in front of the public.

We have already suffered because of poor selection of words resulting in a public divide between East and West Pakistan.

Thus, it is need of the hour that our political (including Opposition) and military leadership lay more emphasis to control the temptations of open and impulsive outbursts, i.e. “Loudspeaker Diplomacy” about national issues.

—The writer is associated with National Institute of Maritime Affairs.

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