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How India is exercising soft power through Heritage of Yoga

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Recently, we must have witnessed the hype in Press about the International Yoga Day celebrations led by India all over the world.

The event evoked mélange of reactions, while some highly appraised the initiative there were also some criticisms as well. Moreover analysts didn’t fall short to offer their own analysis by analyzing the ancient Indian scriptures and offering their analyzing in the context of present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. What is the essence of Yoga? How is it related with Religion? Is it a way to exercise India’s soft power? How is Yoga entering the arena of Diplomacy and International Affairs? With an intention of offering a holistic view, I will lay down some perspectives from different angles to enlighten our reader’s attention.

What is Yoga?

The contemporary analysis of Yoga by journalists and certain teachers has been limited only to the postures. Of course as we see that the west has adopted the more physical form of yoga which has been a billion dollar business so far. The flagship film of Yoga Day clearly states that the object of Yoga is Samadhi, by traditional means one has to perfect the asanas to achieve a healthy body, mind and spirit, then he has to internalize the process by focusing more on meditation which will lead to the state of Yoga. Essentially, Yoga is Sanskrit word, it means the union and connection with the divinity thereby achieving self-realization. Thus at the out the outset it is the process of self-realization which is an outcome of Yoga. A Yogi is a person who practices Yoga, he has to obtain the state of Yoga, i.e. achieving the state of Nirvikilpa Samadhi, and it means that a Yogi enters into the dimension of thoughtless awareness which means connection of ones soul with the divinity. This state is more or less like an ecstatic experience of vibrations which a yogi feels after having attaining the state of Samadhi. Therefore practicing only physical posture may present us certain benefits but they won’t offer us the spiritual bliss and peace which is the ultimate aim of Yoga. This is where philosophy of Saint Kabir enlightens us, in his poetry he mentions “Pothi Padh Padh Kar Jag Mua, Pandit Bhayo Na Koye, Dhai Akhshar Prem Ke, Jo Padhe So Pandit Hoye.” Which means “Reading books hasn’t made anyone wiser. But the One who has experienced even the first flush of love, knows more about Life than a learned man. This leads us to conclusion that one doesn’t becomes a Yogi by analyzing or mere practicing, one actually becomes a Yogi by achieving the state of Yoga.

Another confusion created by analysts is about whether Yoga is the part of Hinduism. It is true to some extent that the science of self-realization was first expounded in India in prehistoric era, but the emphasis of yoga on scriptures in no way leads to conclusion that yoga is a part of Hindu philosophy. Firstly Hinduism was never a formalized religion, Secondly, it acknowledges the incarnations of realized souls who descent on earth to alleviate the human lives. Thus every soul who walked on the earth to propagate the message of divinity is promoting Yoga in other words, all the prophets spoke about it, For example Jesus Christ did mention about connection with Holy Ghost and Supreme Father, Prophet Mohammad did emphasized that the Islam is surrender to Allah and that one has obtain divinity by completely surrendering to the formless and omnipresent god, similarly Buddha in his quest for liberation founded eight fold path for Nirvana. All of them are essentially speaking of the same connection in different times of history but the purpose is same, i.e. to uplift the consciousness of humans and to establish the process of self-realization within humans. Another beautiful example about unity of purpose in religions could be found in a classic titled Majma-Ul-Bahrain or The Mingling of the Two Oceans, written by King Dara Shikoh who was the eldest son and the heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. In this explores the interconnection and similarities between Sufism and Vedanta traditions.

We may also turn our attention towards Sahaja Yoga which is unique from other branches of Yoga, Sahaja Yoga claims to be the Yoga promoting universal harmony by emphasizing about the role of sacred masters hailing from different religions. Most of the time it is assumed that Yoga Gurus are mostly male, but it is also interesting to note that this global movement was founded by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi who was the wife of late Dr. Sir C.P. Srivastava, International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Emeritus. In fact back in 1990 she conducted a Sahaja Yoga session at United Nations New York on the topic of Self Realization. Due to the diplomatic career of Sir C.P. Srivastava, Shri Mataji often spent her time out of India, travelling different countries, this further on acted as a catalyst for her to understand the western culture and thereby introducing them to Yoga which is simple and spontaneous.

Yoga and Diplomacy

The French case of promoting the French Culture and Language is a very interesting example of pursing diplomacy of preserving and promoting the heritage, art and culture. The role of France in creating International Organization La Francophonie in 1970 shows that it is assuming its authority in preserving the language, and through its means it would exercise its soft power in francophone countries. According to the organizations website, the member countries “also share the humanist values promoted by the French language. The French language and its humanist values represent the two cornerstones on which the International Organisation of La Francophonie is based.” In the same way, France is promoting French Language and culture through Alliance française. French Language, Wine and Cheese Tasting, Art, Culture and Education are one of the key activities promoted by Alliance française across the world.

Throughout the course, India managed to embrace the influx of different cultures but has still managed to retain the essence and the crux of divinity imbibed in its pluralistic traditions. At the times where British and French took pride in having colonies, India was still keeping its values and traditions alive. Being more than 5000 years old, Yoga as a science of self-realization has still managed to survive, neither India exercised its power to control it nor it promoted it. It played a vital role in creating state of art kings who would seek the guidance of yogis, moreover the fame of India and its philosophy spread across the world which dragged the attention of mystics, traders, monks and even philosophers and even colonizers. However India, since its independence hasn’t exercised cultural diplomacy as a part of its main stream diplomacy. The complexities within the Indian Culture and the diversity in makes it more complicated for India play a legitimate role on promoting its own heritage and culture. At the same time India takes pride of its rich past, from the science of Ayurveda to the secular values of Emperor Akbar and monuments like Taj Mahal, India cherishes it all, but it fails to endorse it. Moreover India is one of the largest contributor of UN Peace Forces as well. So Logically, India has all right to promote Yoga, just like France does for French Language, this is essentially important because of two primary reasons. Firstly, why didn’t previous governments undertook such step, were they ignorant or yoga was not on their agenda. Secondly, the west adopted yoga much faster than India did, that’s the reason why so many gurus settled out of India. The Yoga also flourished as a business where various forms of yoga were introduced which are completely opposite to the original philosophy. It is at this time, India had to reassume its position by sharing the true knowledge and true purpose of yoga which is to achieve peace and harmony.

On the 21st June, a record was created where millions of people practiced Yoga, which was even a rare fact for Indian to cherish its own heritage. I am not sure except any victory in sports if an Indian can recall when was the last time the world followed India’s footsteps? When was the last time they saw a Head of State appealing UN to adopt a Yoga day and himself practicing Yoga? Those practicing Yoga on yoga day across the world didn’t come for showoff, they rather came because they saw hope, because they are seeking the peace within and because it’s worth trying. Although analysts may accuse government’s agenda and may find out loop holes in organization of mass event, they miss out the bigger picture of a massive country which has been at the epicenter of spirituality for the world and its role to lead the world by example. Of course Modi may find it inevitable to avoid criticisms, however some of his remarks do strike a chord with ancient wisdom. During his speech at UN General Assembly, he said that Yoga could help to tackle climate change and in recent International Conference of Yoga, he mentioned that Yoga could play a vital role in developing peaceful societies, responsible leaders so that we may leave planet in good conditions for future generation. This adds a new dimension of Spirituality in order to achieve Sustainability in every sector. Of course given the state of the world so far, we can make out that neither does industrialization nor investment helps us in tackling with emergent issues, if the mind of the person is not ready to absorb the change. It only through the process of sustainable transformation inside each one of us the society by its collective effort will be able to raise its own consciousness level, this in turn will bring mass change across the civilization. So far we have seen a glimpse of Modi’s vision, but how far it will lead to tangible results is still to be seen.

Future of Yoga

Many companies across the world have integrated Yoga in their HR practice, whereas there are many who practice it on daily basis for spiritual or physical benefits. Certain amount of research is also indicating that it can help us to deal with stress and emotions, Thus it is clear that irrespective of criticisms, Yoga is all set to pave its path for growing popularity. More importantly, it can play a vital role in creating Sustainable Leaders, who have higher level of insights into the issues of the world and which in our definition have capacity to work at intergenerational level and to lay the foundations for next generation. At the Sustainable Leadership blog you can see from the interview of change makers on how they are transforming ideas into action. At the heart of the Sustainable Leadership, the spiritual consciousness plays a vital role in developing a mindset of the leader which allows him to connect the dots between international affairs, entrepreneurship, business and civil society. Through this mindset he is uniquely positioned to offer a novel perspective to deal with issues compared to traditional leaders working in disciplinary silos.

Finally, it needs to reiterate that Yoga is not a fashion, it’s an invaluable asset which is open to humanity, it is up to member states and people across the world to realize its worth and how it could contribute in health care, education, sustainable development issues. It should provoke an internal change which could bring in positive transformation, As Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi says “Divinity is not a fashion. It is the way of Life. It is the need of your being. You have to become that.”

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Diplomacy

Ramifications of The Pandemic In International Relations

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coronavirus people

Ever since the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, claims have been made of the pandemic causing a massive impact in global politics and international relations. In the pre-pandemic era, international relations were defined by increasing bipolarity, greater isolationism, greater trade protectionism and increasing nationalism. While the West led by the US was gradually adopting a protectionist attitude, the East led by China in particular, was looking towards increasing multilateral cooperation. Alongside this, international organizations were seeing their roles diminishing. Moreover, populist leaders and authoritarian governments were gradually gathering influence globally, in stark contrast to a decline in democracy and neo-liberalism. These trends could be seen most clearly in the US/China conflict that has dominated most international relations rhetoric of the 21st century.

Although China had been hit with the pandemic first, through extreme lockdown measures, quick responses, mass screenings, targeted monitoring and an effective socio-political response, the country quickly reversed course and had flattened its curve by March, depicting the resilience of the country. With a mere 87,000 cases as of December 2020 in a country of 1.4 billion people, China’s effective policies to deal with the pandemic can hardly be sidelined. Nevertheless, as the virus had been identified in China first, this triggered a massive backlash from the West, particularly the US, where President Trump blasted China for covering-up details about the virus. Rumors were spread by the White House itself about the virus originating from a Wuhan lab, and the virus was labeled the Wuhan Virus – a move discouraged by the WHO. This inflammatory language worsened relations between the two countries. Going even further, President Trump terminated US involvement in the World Health Organization, claiming it to be controlled by Chinese authorities.

With this move the influence of the world’s most important health organization was weakened, further showcasing the decline of the liberal international world order, due to a diminishing trust in international organizations. Thus, the pre-Covid trend of a lack of trust in international organizations, continued during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. With Trump advocating for closed borders with his “We need the wall more than ever” expressions  on Twitter, and similar far-right leaders like France’s Le Pen ruing the “religion of borderless-ness” for the pandemic, the West’s protectionist, nationalistic ideas showed no signs of abating even during a global crisis.

In stark contrast, the East led by China continued on its path of greater cooperation and interdependence, through bilateral and multilateral engagements. With the US leaving a void in the global leadership spot for handling the pandemic, China stepped in and offered to assist other countries in handling the outbreaks in their respective countries. China’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson,  Hua Chunying, even stated that they would like to share China’s good practice and experience.

Furthering its charm offensive, China started shipping out masks and ventilators to countries that were very badly hit by the pandemic, like Italy, Spain and Serbia. With the countries of the European Union shutting down their borders and hoarding domestic supplies, despite Italy’s pleas for help, Italy turned to China for aid in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. This “mask diplomacy” along with China’s Health Silk Road has served to strengthen global public health governance, as envisioned by China.

Undeniably, the pandemic’s effects in the short-term have been wide-reaching, especially in the social and technological domain. However, expecting global politics and international relations to undergo a transformational change in the long-term, solely due to the COVID-19 pandemic is relatively far-fetched, especially if current global trends are assessed.

The virus may or may not have taken its toll on international diplomacy in the traditional context, but it has certainly shaken many things if not stirred them completely.

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Diplomatic Fiasco: PTI Government’s Failure on the Climate Diplomacy Front

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“Think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them”.– John F. Kerry

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have both declared that unrestrained climate change poses a threat to international peace and security. Presently, climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity. We all will witness its impacts, making it a critical foreign policy and diplomatic issue. Climate change will overturn the 21st century world order and characterize how we live and work. Even so, in the midst  of a global pandemic, it is evident that climate change will be the major issue of this century. As countries will move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, recovery plans will shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean and green, safe and healthy, and more resilient. Over the last decade, foreign policymakers have taken measures to better understand climate risks. To date, foreign policy responses to climate change have primarily centered on the security repercussions of climate change.

To chart a fresh course ahead, in order to initiate a global fight against climate change, President Joe Biden welcomed a diverse set of leaders from around the globe to explicate the connections between climate security, climate change and broader foreign policy objectives. The list of invitee included world leaders like President Xi Jinping of China and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, PM Modi of India, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to attend the two-days meeting to mark Washington’s return to the visible lines of the fight against climate risks. Though, Pakistan have its place in the same region, and fifth-most vulnerable country to climate change, it has been disqualified from the summit. Likewise,  Biden dispatched his climate envoy, former secretary of state John Kerry, to prepare the ground for the summit in meetings with global leaders. The U.S. invited the leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which includes the 17 countries responsible for about 80-percent of global emissions and GDP, along with, heads of countries that are unambiguously vulnerable to climate impacts or are representing robust climate leadership.

The current global efforts towards mainstreaming of climate change in development policies and programs are getting more traction due to expanding avenues of domestic and international climate diplomacy. For developing countries, climate diplomacy is undoubtedly becoming a key incentive to integrate climate change issues into their foreign policy. Pakistan is also a relatively new player in the climate diplomacy arena with a nascent institutional setup. The climate diplomacy adaption experience of Pakistan is still at the embryonic stage. The main problem is the gradual decline in the aptitude and capacity of institution to develop a clear policy route. The policy decline is much more rapid under the PTI government. Pakistan’s ambassadorial clout has eroded over the years due to political unpredictability and economic timidity. Similarly, the government has failed even to built a national narrative on climate change issue. Imran Khan has been warning the world of catastrophe if the climate problem is not addressed, but has failed to come out with a clear policy direction on the issue.

Among the many challenges fronting the Imran Khan government will be tackling the notoriously dysfunctional U.S. – Pakistan relationship. The Biden presidency has designated climate change as a critical theme of its foreign policy, and indeed aware of Pakistan’s deep climate vulnerability. For the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority for U.S. administration. Many high-ranking Biden government officials, including climate change envoy John Kerry, know Pakistan well. When Kerry was Obama’s secretary of state, co-chaired US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that counted renewable energy. Anybody familiar with how Islamabad and Washington have interacted over the last 74 years will resort to weary metaphors: a roller-coaster ride, the dynamic between an overbearing mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Biden and his experienced team of ex-Obama administration officials are likely to press Pakistan – for Islamabad, it is a catch-22 situation. In the indigenous context, internal political strife in Pakistan and economic dependency on other countries have raised questions about our ability to effectively fight our case in international arena. The latest diplomatic fiasco speaks very loud and clear about the government’s inability to deal with fast-changing geopolitics. Washington’s broader interests in Asia, including relationships with China and India, will determine its policy at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate. It seems, Pakistan has no friends in the Biden administration. Thus, out-of-the-box thinking is required for Pakistan’s foreign policy decision makers.

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Gender Diplomacy: A concern For International Politics

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UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Diplomacy can be defined as an art of interaction between actors (states/ organizations) to achieve mutually benefitted desirable interests of pursuing parties, especially in the international arena of politics. While diplomacy is an integral part of the Liberal school of thought which has primarily dominated world politics, yet the field of diplomacy is itself deprived of liberal virtues of equality and parity. Weighing the balance of ratio between both genders in diplomacy, the dilemma of the day is that females do not reach the level of participation to be in parity with male partakers in diplomacy. Having a statistical outlook at patriarchy-ridden Foreign Services around the globe, female diplomats in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the United States of America, and France makeup to 30%-40% of Foreign Service. While even the developed states have not reached 50% of female diplomats in their respective states, developing states in the South show an even less percentile of female diplomats. South Asian states like Pakistan and India estimate to less than 15 and 20 percent of females in the skill of diplomacy, respectively.

Being an equal sharer in foreign policy-making and policy implementation is a fundamental democratic right of both genders; to serve the country and to shape the future of the land which is their identity, their respect, and their pride. Apart from this that the balanced ratio of diplomatic participants is an integral right, involving women in diplomatic interactions may aid and enhance the pursuance of goals by the states. I would like to back my argument with not only contemporary examples but historical evidence, as well. Turning pages of history back to 400 B.C. where women are named as ‘weavers’ in the writings of Aristophanes to Lysistrate; referring to women’s role as skilled and accomplished diplomats who helped in the resolution of the Peloponnesian war. This act of inter-mingle, unifying, and peace-making through the prowess of consular skill set by then women is explained by Aristophanes in a phrase: ‘Weavers of nations”. This brings me to another point is that in contemporary times as pinpointed by the United Nations, the peace-processes in which women are engagers, 35% of those tend to last for at least 15 years.

While men are more forgoing towards minor details during foreign relation analysis, women tend to put more attention to minute details, which consequently results in the production of best-suited foreign policies. But it is noteworthy that to get potential benefit from this healthy difference in nature between males and females, it is potent enough to bring anequal number of female Foreign Service Officers as compared to male Officers. Having such a salubrious balance of both feminine and masculine characteristics can also equate chances of war and peace, spontaneous and patient decisions, and use of both: hard and soft power. Eventually, this egalitarian level complies with Robert Putnam’s ‘Law of Increasing Disproportion’ which links the rank of authority and the degree of representation of high-status in society. Nevertheless, being an Ambassador, diplomat or even part of Foreign Service is a matter of great esteem and so women in diplomacy, represent women of the society. Linking the argumentative dots mentioned above, the United Nations’ report endorses the importance of the role of women in diplomacy by considering their input as a vital ingredient for stable and secure democracy.

Applying the United Nations’ analysis on the inclusion of women in the artistry of diplomacy on developing states, particularly in South Asia, we tend to project various prosperous benefits of women diplomats in the region, particularly in the context of the two-decades-long conflicts: Afghan-Taliban Conflict and the Kashmir dispute in the heart of South Asia. Women in diplomacy in Pakistan, India, and neighboring South Asian states might weaken the bone of contention between the by-birth rivals: India and Pakistan through conflict transformation strategies. While the involvement of Afghan females in the ongoing and forthcoming Afghan Peace Processes and the future Afghan government can not only uplift the societal status of women in Afghan society but will improve the longevity of sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Eventually, colleen diplomats can help to divert the state-centric state and regional security paradigm of South Asia to human-centric state and regional security, resulting in diversified and proactive approach; fostering fraternal ties leading to paced development in the region and abroad.

To conclude with, as I have highlighted the irony of the hour with an un-equal statistical ratio of gender parity in the course of diplomacy and the importance of achieving this parity by incorporating women in the skilled framework of diplomacy, I would like to propose universally applicable policy measures to acquire this equivalence.  The first and foremost step is to bring awareness in society for the encouragement and acceptance of more female diplomats as opposed to the conventional fields like medical and engineering sciences. Along with this policy changes should be made to ensure equal recruitment of female diplomats, specifically on merit to counter and curtail the patriarchal dominance, mostly due to the might of money. Lastly, a female-friendly environment should be promoted to utilize the feminine potential in Foreign Offices. Conclusively, equal participation of both genders will result in sustainably productive democracies—both, in letter and spirit. Hence, gender equality in diplomacy is essential for the growth and evolution of international politics.

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