Pakistan is geographically located at the crossroads of cultures and historic civilizations, some of which have turned into mighty nation states of the Twentieth century, such as China, Iran, India and Turkey. The lack of cultural contact between the countries of the region is one of the key challenges that Pakistan has to address for a durable economic relationship with its neighbours.
Pakistan’s strategic planning shaped by the threats and opportunities of economic and military cooperation with its neighbours holds no special brief for understanding the cross cultural interactions taking place in Pakistan’s geographical neighbourhood in China, Iran, Afghanistan and India. At a time when Pakistan is entering into major economic relations with foreign countries in the region as well as globally, it is imperative to pay attention to the cultural dimensions of international relations by extending the scope of public diplomacy. The interactions between citizens of neighbouring countries, if based on an informed understanding of diverse cultural practices and aesthetic traditions, can engender a process of acculturation, which can help evolve transnational identities based on geo-cultural heritage of the region.
A quick overview of Pakistan’s cultural policy relations with its neighbouring countries presents a somewhat dismal scenario, where there is a disarray of state initiatives and practices, at loggerhead with each other, which continued to change with the change of the government. A holistic state policy towards culture which could guide the national cultural development as well as fill in the ranks for the cultural diplomacy through foreign cultural relations is yet to take shape. Moreover, Pakistan’s cultural policies do not reflect the changing geo-economic realities of the country.
The very fact that the domain of culture is a relegated affair in the ministerial portfolios of the government, left at the mercy of bureaucratic inertia and reduced to the sectors of entertainment and national heritage, speaks volumes about the sagacity of Pakistan’s cultural managers’ vision of the future. The social and cultural consequences of the US $46 billion investment in the 3,000 kilometer long strategic China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will connect Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang province, have not been fully anticipated.
Given the likely cultural interaction between the citizens of Pakistan and China, it is imperative that we explore the avenues for renewed inter-cultural dialogue and revive the multi level links that are lying dormant in our shared cultural histories and regional biographies.