Over the course of last two decades, India has presented itself as a major player in Afghanistan in the realm of soft power. Through strategically investing in multi-sectorial social-economic activities, India has not just presented an alternative to the hard power tactics that Afghanistan has witnessed from Pakistan, it has also won the ‘hearts and minds’ with the ideas of nation building and cultural influence through art, culture, music, education opportunities and economic investments. This should conclude in the verdict that India holds a key position in any engagement that focuses on Afghanistan’s future and that India can affect the course of developments keeping in view its own national interests. However, this seems far from reality as it can be argued that today India is being limited by the barriers to its soft power and thus, the fears of losing relevance in Afghanistan might be becoming a reality.
What is ‘Soft power’ and ‘Hard power ‘?
Joseph Nye defines soft power as the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment, and that a country’s soft power rests on its resources – culture, political values and foreign policies. In contrast, hard power involves the ‘ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will’. When we look at the Indian soft power context in Afghanistan, two contrasting phenomena can be observed at play today. On one hand, where India’s soft power in Afghanistan is seen as paramount by most scholars and is expected to make India a major actor in the region and thus a participant in the ongoing Afghan peace process, India found itself somehow sidelined in a process where actors like Pakistan, China, and Turkey are playing a major role who base themselves on a foundation of hard power in Afghanistan.
India’s Soft Power in Afghanistan
“Two international surveys in Afghanistan indicated that India is the most popular foreign country there- all of this without much Indian hard power on display”, noted Rani Mullen in 2015. She highlights that India in 2012-13 allocated over 2000 study and training fellowships to Afghanistan, trained a generation of civil servants and potential key-makers and the fact that Hamid Karzai, former Afghanistan president studied in India undoubtedly enabled India to secure a close relationship with Afghanistan and an official strategic partnership, without having to flex a hard power muscle. Further taking in account the recent Indian record, it can be said that India has been a key development partner in Afghanistan, having achieved 400 projects in 34 provinces, built over 200 schools, sponsored thousands of scholarships and supplied wheat, medical facilities and more recently, COVID aid. The construction of Afghan parliament building and the Salma dam (also revered as Afghan-India Friendship Dam), stands testimony to the Indian support towards Afghanistan’s development. It has often been highlighted that unlike other actors, India’s endeavor to help Afghanistan has no other agenda than thestability and development of Afghanistan. However, today, India finds itself restricted in leveraging its soft power in Afghanistan, due to several reasons.
The 21st Century Race for Soft Power in Afghanistan
In sphere of aid and economic assistance, which Mullen notes is one of the key soft power tools, India has found a tough competitor in China, who has deep pockets and ambitions to overshadow Indian efforts. India and China both have major geopolitical interests in Afghanistan who see Afghanistan as the gateway to an oil and resource rich Central Asia and to European markets besides the factors related to own national security due to growing extremism in the region. Both nations are now pushing hard to be the bigger stakeholder in the infrastructure and development of Afghan economy. However, where India is finding it increasingly hard to have access to Afghanistan, and have also been ‘Dropped’ recently from Chabahar rail project (which India see as the connectivity link to Afghanistan) by Iran due to lack of active engagement from India, China has been successful in making inroads, exemplified in the recent project of ‘Sino-Afghan Special Railway Transportation’ which links Afghanistan to China, via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, thus, integrating Afghanistan into the USD 62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Moving to the sphere of culture and media, India is now facing off against a rising Turkey. In his article in 2008, Shashi Tharoor had noted that the television mega-serial “ Kyu ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” had become India’s biggest asset in Afghanistan where it was watched by 94 percent of Afghans. Today, this space is dominated by Turkish media. “ Turkey’s efforts in terms of humanitarian efforts and education across the Muslim world have contributed to its rising influence on a social and cultural level, namely the global success of its soap operas”, notes Tanya Goudsouzian, a Canadian journalist covering Afghanistan for over 15 years. She emphasizes on the phenomenon that “War-weary Afghans have tuned in to Turkish dramas, which have proven to be culturally appropriate alternatives to Bollywood’s song-and-dance escapism and Hollywood’s ‘America saves the world’ propaganda.” In other opinions too, Tukey enjoys an increasingly privileged position in Afghanistan society whose troops on the group as part of NATO forces have been seen in a different light than troops from other countries and have not been seen as foreign invaders. In sphere of education, Turkish education is again becoming popular among Afghan families. The ethnic linkages with minorities like Uzbek minority serves as an added advantage for deepening the ties. Further, a growing closeness with Pakistan, has helped Turkey to gain inroads and insights and thus become a major internal stakeholder in Afghanistan rather than just a friendly nation 1700 miles away.
It can be argued that gains from India’s soft power in Afghanistan remains a case of unrealized potential due to the absence of credible hard power. Kabir Taneja, fellow at the Observer Research Foundation notes that India’s position of goodwill in Afghanistan, gained due to a non-interventionist approach also limits India’s aspirations of becoming a superpower, as there is little point to soft power if one cannot back it with hard power to protect their interests . In the era of peace process, Indian soft power is now pitted against the hard power elements of Pakistan which is pro-Taliban, and China, who uses soft power as a direct extension of its hard power, then there is Turkey, who might be on its way to replace India in the realm of media content through its rising popularity among the Muslim world. In this situation, Indian policymakers have their work cut-out which is to think about the relevance of Indian soft power without a support of hard power tools to decide both short-term and long-term plans in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. It will be imperative to not only recalculate the tools used for deploying soft power, but also to figure out India’s own rule in regional geopolitics if it wants to continue a soft power approach sans hard power credibility on ground.
Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict
The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.
The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.
Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?
The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.
Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.
One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.
A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.
History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.
Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.
However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.
Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.
The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.
It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.
There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.
Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.
The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.
A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.
Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.
The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.
The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.
There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.
There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity.
There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.
Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.
The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.
Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.
Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.
Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva
19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders.
18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?
Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit
Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?
In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)
Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?
One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE) hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).
Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India, could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:
, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’
GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league — extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021. Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.
GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.
In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.
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