Occupying a corner of the Pakistan pavilion at World Tourism Expo in Beijing, I was busy distributing pictorial heritage brochures containing distinctions of Balochistan as a tourist destination. Answering questions from inquisitive would-be-travellers to Pakistan, I found demonstrated interest in seeking information about our country. The visitors were picking subjects from the brochure and were keen to know about Walking Whales, Baluchitherium, Mehrgarh archaeological site, coastal Balochistan, and of course the emerging port of Gwader.
Soon I realised that I was short of Brochures so I rushed to my hotel and returned with another bundle. To my pleasant surprise my clientage was still around looking at posters displayed on the exhibit wall highlighting Balochistan’s tourism and cultural attractions. There was an influx in Expo of tourists from all across the world and many countries had setup impressive pavilions turning the occasion extremely festive. A good number of policy makers, academicians, implementors, marketing experts, tour operators and artists had gathered to interact and discuss cultural initiatives undertaken or needed, in that direction.
There were informal groups, discussing global prospects of promoting heritage tourism in an ever shrinking world. It was quite educative as well as accommodative in the sense that participants were often allowed to express opinions and views making the discussions more interesting and live. For my part, I chose the forum dealing with cultural diplomacy. This group was composed of experts who led the discussion by setting a direction to proactive measures relevant to all regions of the world. They focussed on the need for engaging in cultural diplomacy in order to bring in the diversity factor as a strength, not as weakness. At the same time, they underscored the need to build on the commonalities as well, that could bring people of respective countries closer and the governments nearer so as to create an atmosphere of cordial global fraternity, besides others, through inter cultural dialogue.
Cultural Diplomacy (CD) may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilise the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity. Whether to strengthen relationships, enhance sociocultural cooperation or promote national interest, cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society ( Dr. Emil Constantinescu ). There is no dearth of instances in international relations where it worked wonders. A number of successful initiatives testify that CD was applied in addressing even complex situations among nations, sometime not ready to talk to each other at all.
Let me say that sports and culture go in unison to tackle challenges where politics finds itself helpless. Having said that, I tend to recall the Ping-Pong diplomacy that pioneered Sino-American relations which were none existent prior to that. Who could think that a tour of an American Tennis Table Team becomes instrumental at bringing to negotiating table two arch hostile nations, a situation that even Henry Kissinger considered equal to crossing Himalaya mountain barefoot. I have Kissinger’s books in my Resource Centre and find those interesting in understanding the ‘Chess Game’ of international politics. He says, when the American Team Captain shook hand with his Chinese counterpart, he presented him a souvenir that the Chinese player received with a smile. This seemingly ordinary gesture kept Mr. Kissinger awake all the night thinking of two possibilities, first that next day the souvenir would be returned out of rejection under the wrath of Chinese authorities. Or second, it would be reciprocated with a Chinese emblem next day. It was reciprocated. Moreover, at the closing ceremony, Chairman Mao Ze Dong looked for American Team Captain in the queue and invited him to stand beside him. Kissinger sought an immediate appointment with President Nixon to congratulate him and discuss the way forward.
It was fascinating to see the resolve of the participants at those Expo fora to regard culture as a potential power in evolving global harmony, given the chance. I too subscribe to that thought and eager to be a part of any such initiative, of course, in my humble capacity. For instance, I recommend to my country to play a proactive role and curb her unrealistic negative image with a genuine cultural ‘image softening drive’ directed at winning friends with the help of her civilizational credentials found in all provinces. It is irony that we do not adequately appreciate that not only in winning friends but also in retaining them, if not eternally, but for long time, we must trust our accumulated wisdom of generations, our culture. I am sure such initiatives would have instant as well as long term impacts.
To embark on a well orchestrated cultural diplomacy drive, let us adopt a simple course. Recognising that cultures of the world are divers, I prefer to focus on similarities among different cultures. Luckily we are not short of cultural element that exist elsewhere and are common. Before I indicate a couple very important areas for serious consideration, I sometimes wonder how those similarities had occurred in the first place, despite distances and aloofness of various societies. And then I ponder on the place where that particular similarity originated. There might have been a common source where from that element sprouted. Frankly, it interests me much.
During a visit to Jackson, Mississippi, in United States, I went to Choctaw (red) Indian native tribes to study their culture as part of my academic assignment. Beside others, I noticed a strange similarity among the Choctaw women and the women of Mehrgarh. They had a common hairstyle which was typical to Mehrgarh women 9000 years ago. My imagination certainly traveled in time, in many directions, looking for a link to that apparently small but extremely significant correlation one cannot ignore. There must be scientific explanations to situations like that.
Similarly, once I was taking my breakfast in Ormuchi, Xinjiang, China, just to know, I held a piece of roasted bread and asked the lady waitress, “what do you call it”, she replied ” Churpuk “, a typical Balochi term. Well, the Xinjiang case was not confined to a single term. It was a case study rich in numerous similarities. The Uyghur language has similar alphabets that Balochi has. Their writing style is Balochi. They write from right to left and had equally been through Orthography problems, though unlike the Baloch, they had overcome it. I recall once I went to try and buy a Uyghur typewriter, interestingly I found it with almost all Balochi letters. I instantly typed some verses of Ata Shad and it did well. I still keep that piece of paper.
While calling in culture for furthering international fraternity through cultural diplomacy, one can suggest countless spheres of interest worth consideration. However, I would prefer to confine my talk initially with Baloch culture and mark two or three distinctions for take up at national level. There is no harm in recognising that among all countries of the region, domestication of animals took place at Mehrgarh in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, for the first time in human history. Balochistan had been celebrating this civilizational achievement for centuries and its latest version is the annual Sibi Festival. The distinction of domestication of animals was not less than a revolution unparalleled in history of the region. Out of its hundreds of development consequences one was Nomadism, a lifestyle founded at Mehgarh 9000 years ago, which is being faithfully pursued by the Baloch with all its vigour even today.
Let us take up nomadism as a subject of cultural diplomacy. We know well that Nomadism exists today in almost all continents of the world. In the east, from Tibet, China, Mongolia, Russia, the entire Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, to the west Canada and America, you find it’s varieties as proud components of culture. It is regarded as the foundation bedrock upon which societies based their growth and development. Now here is a fit case for cultural diplomacy. Balochistan can offer its ancient credible know how as being the foremost founder and the largest cradle of this wealth. Any interaction based on this civilizational strength initiated by Pakistan would be a bridge paving way for lasting friendships among nations of the world.
The second example is that of throat singing, one of the very popular forms of Balochi folk music called Nar-o-Sur. Seemingly it may be simplistic but I have seen it working wonders in binding together nations that revere it. I had been to a number of international occasions where I have presented papers on it along with researchers of sharing nations. Again China, Mongolia, Central Asia, Russia etc. are its potent cradles. Tua, Kazzak and Mongol people are the best cases to admire. Balochistan can contribute beside others, in this sector too. Sometimes a single narration furnishes a bird eye view of cultural mapping right from Mehrgarh era to the present day. It has the magic effect on multilateral relations of countries that share this vital heritage.
It would be appropriate to share with you an event of substantial cultural power show. In 2007, the ISESCO declared Tashkent as the Cultural Capital of Islamic World. The celebrations included a Conference of Experts from Islamic Countries, where I represented Pakistan and presented a research paper. Second was the grand ceremony of handing over the symbolic key to the President of Uzbekistan. All countries of the Islamic World were represented through their outstanding scholars, leaders and Mufti Azums, including Amr Musa of Arab League and Imam Bukhari of Jame-Musjid Delhi. That was a real occasion to memorise for life. Almost every leader of substance talked of forging unity through proactive cultural policies to thwart away the negative image imposed on Islamic World. Next morning the participants were taken by an exclusive flight from Tashkent to Samarkand to commence the second day of the Conference and for a wonderful heritage site seeing. Indeed I saw Islamic cultural diplomacy in action at a large scale.
All cannot be said in one breath or in a short write up but still it can be a curtain raiser in brevity to a resolve towards a detailed homework in a direction almost neglected so far.