Keen to revive and set in motion Pakistan’s tourism industry, the administration in Islamabad announced a new visa policy at the very beginning of the New Year. The measure included ‘visa-on-arrival’ for 50 countries, and the added option for handing out ‘e-visas’ to citizens of 175 counties. This was the first time in decades that a formal policy was introduced allowing citizens of a large number of countries to get visa on arrival.
Calling the initiative “a harbinger of change” and “backbone of the Naya Pakistan economy”, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that the government had introduced a “revolutionary visa regime” to attract tourism and investment. The minister also announced several other policy changes and efforts directed towards building Pakistan’s tourism industry into one capable of contributing to economic growth, and elevating the overall global image of the country.
Under the present leadership, it seems devoting efforts and national resources towards building a positive image of the country is a notable part of conducting successful diplomacy and forwarding foreign policy interests in the geopolitical arena. A greater focus on the tourism sector for the current administration complements the government’s development agenda.
Services and assets that are based on the unique culture of a country have inherent value. Pakistan with its vibrant natural landscapes, people, culture, music and food has a lot to offer in this regard. Foreign policy efforts that involve taking tangible steps to build on the cultural capital of Pakistan and optimize benefits achievable through existing national resources can go a long way in terms of boosting the nation’s soft power.
The Kartarpur corridor opening is a case in point. In introducing a visa-free initiative for the Sikh community, PM Imran Khan not only pushed tourism but also took a decided step towards branding Pakistan as a friendly and welcoming nation. Effective and well-timed cultural–diplomacy efforts have a lot of potential even with turning the tide of bilateral relationships that have years of animosity and mistrust plaguing them. Between India and Pakistan, even though the Kartarpur corridor initiative only had limited impact in terms of bridging the trust-deficit gap, it did help change the conversation, putting Pakistan in a positive light, for once.
For Pakistan of course the road to positive nation branding is marked with significant challenges. Without doubt, the security situation of the country is one of the biggest and most obvious hurdles.
The Global Terrorism Index 2018 revealed that terrorism related deaths in Pakistan have decreased by 64 percent. In another positive turn of events, the British Airways have announced that they will be resuming flights to Pakistan this year. It is important to note Pakistan’s image has taken a hit over the years, owing to terrorism, corruption and the Afghan war refugee issue.
The recent Pulwama attack and Indo-Pak clash also put to test the current government’s resolve to intensify diplomatic efforts and build the nation’s image. Regardless, PM Khan never lost balance in his statements and kept the kind of composure and cool necessary to win the country international praise and keep the positive opinion of the global community. Pakistan’s administration kept pressing for the need for both parties to sit at the negotiating table, and made its intentions clear by releasing and handing over the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to signify its pro-peace stance. This step was rightfully hailed as a positive move to defuse tensions.
Time and time again the current government has oriented policy decisions to project its commitment towards building up the country, both in the way it has shaped Pakistan’s economic and diplomatic policies. Revising the visa restriction policies is a step in the right direction. It would serve the country well to continue in this vein. Building on soft power capital can go a long way as the country attempts to revitalize its trade and diplomatic ties with nations around the world.