Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cricket: Pakistan's Soft Power

The image or word that many have when Pakistan is mentioned is “terrorism.” That is due to the past and recent terrorist attacks that have been associated with the country ranging from the Mumbai attacks last year to the recent attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket players on Tuesday, March 3. The Guardian’s "Pakistan needs to take responsibility" raised cricket as a form of “soft power” in the South Asian region.

In a region where terror has tainted virtually everything, cricket has retained an enviable immunity, making the stadium an unlikely but reliable venue for what became known as "cricket diplomacy" between India and Pakistan.

Even in a region where discord is prevalent, cricket has allowed for cooperation among countries through the medium of sport competition.

Matches can turn ugly, but very often seemingly insurmountable tensions melt away by the time trophies are handed out, and touring spectators marvel at the hospitality of their hosts.

Due to other internal and external factors, cricket diplomacy is failing in Pakistan. The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team will have a negative effect for future cricket matches.

This is a huge blow to Pakistan, because cricket was the one area where Pakistan engaged with the world on equal terms; it was the strongest weapon in Pakistan's soft power arsenal.

While this statement may be somewhat exaggerated, in the case of Pakistan, it demonstrates that external and internal factors can influence their soft power. This makes me wonder, what can a country turn to if its core soft power turns on itself? This case will likely depend on the government’s effort to find alternative forms of soft power, but some countries do not have that option. And if they do find alternatives, they might not produce the desired results. What, therefore, can Pakistan now turn to in its arsenal of soft power to engage meaningfully with its neighbors?

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