The 21st century has shifted from military to digital power with the emergence of digital diplomacy. Pakistan, a rising nation, with a tech-savvy populace, has the potential to become a digital powerhouse internationally. According to a survey, Pakistan, home to more than 64 million internet users and 62 million people linked to mobile data, is no exception.
The Pakistan Foreign Office is a crucial player in pushing the nation’s digital agenda as it can interact with foreign governments, organizations, and stakeholders for the sake of encouraging Pakistan’s digital initiatives and creating partnerships that would be helpful in digital transformation. Through diplomatic channels, the Foreign Office has a crucial role in the promotion of the digital agenda in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Digital Agenda: Key Elements
An analysis shows the digital agenda of Pakistan has several key factors, for example, service delivery advancement by e-governance, robust infrastructure development of digital policies, literacy of skills for digital development, revolution, and business nourishment under digital diplomacy. An extensive strategy in the digital agenda of Pakistan changes the economic status of the country and society by employing digital policies.
The pivot of the agenda is to advance e-commerce, raise control in digital development, improve the structure of agendas, and enhance control of technology, digital structure, and use digital networks across organizations and government. Pakistan is capitalizing on high-speed broadband networks, offering training and capacity-building opportunities to take advantage of the potential of digital technology to uplift the growth of the economy and development.
The “Digital Pakistan: A Business and Trade Assessment” report from the World Bank highlights Pakistan’s digital agenda by showcasing the nation’s progress in the IT divisions. This report also stresses trade expenses as a barrier both domestically and internationally. Regulatory restrictions, digital gaps, institutional boundaries, and policy hurdles are general barriers, but despite these barriers, the report highlights the potential of Pakistan to prove itself competitive internationally.
Also, the report underlines the importance of eradicating the hurdles to making Pakistan digitally developed and also strains the areas on which policymakers should focus to create national digital policies.
Has there been any Substantial Growth?
For advancing objectives and interacting with the international community and nations, digital diplomacy has become an essential tool. As a result of the quick growth of technology, digital diplomacy has changed international relations. Now, with digital innovation, nations can interact directly with citizens and outside audiences without using conventional diplomatic channels.
Nations throughout the world have started effective and reliable digital programs. The U.S. State Department’s Digital Diplomacy Coalition, for instance, brings together leaders from different organizations and IT companies to make efforts in digital diplomacy. WHO, to promote international cooperation and information exchange on COVID-19, provides an online platform called the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Also, China has a digital platform, China Foreign Affairs University Online which offers online international relations courses and diplomacy. The government uses that to interact with a worldwide audience and promote policies and ideals. The abovementioned examples illustrate the growth of digital diplomacy for the advancement of foreign policy objectives. As a result, digital diplomacy serves as a tool for nations to interact with the outside world to build their reputation.
Successful Digital Diplomacy Initiatives by the Foreign Office
The FO of Pakistan has been using digital tools for the advancement of the digital agenda. Here are some instances of the Pakistan Foreign Office’s activities regarding digital diplomacy and the effect of those initiatives.
One of the successful initiatives by the Foreign Office of Pakistan is the “Virtual Dashboard,” which monitors the progress of the nation’s activities and interactions. For example, the Digital Flood Dashboard is an initiative that provides real-time data on flood conditions, and two partners who helped create this program were the World Food Program (WFP) and the Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
Other virtual dashboards by the Foreign Office can be used by policymakers for getting real-time statistics on the digital diplomacy activities of Pakistan and for shaping future strategic decisions. Dashboards can show information regarding Pakistan’s interaction with other nations, digital material, successful platforms for targeting particular audiences, and the most popular subjects around the world.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has also launched an effective digital diplomacy initiative called “Twitter Diplomacy.” The Ministry launched campaigns in 2017 to engage Pakistani nationals and diaspora around the world and enhance its reputation at the international level.
Over 462K people follow the @ForeignOfficePk official Twitter account, which is intended to carry information regarding international affairs and foreign policy of Pakistan. It also provides a chance to communicate with other nations’ organizations and governments. Pakistan has been able to increase its exposure and impact in the digital sphere through this platform.
The Foreign Office of Pakistan introduced an electronic visa system in 2019 to make investment and travel easier. This method gives the candidates the possibility to submit visa applications easily to save time. Foreign visitors now find it very easy to visit Pakistan due to the e-Visa system.
Online Portal for Overseas Pakistanis
The Pakistani government established an online portal in June 2021 to make it easier for foreigners to participate in the democratic process of the nation. The portal allows Pakistanis abroad to register to vote, see the latest news, check the status of applications, and more. Initiatives like the Online Portal for Overseas Pakistanis by the Foreign Office are aimed at boosting voter turnout and involving eligible individuals in the political process.
Impact of Pakistan’s Digital Diplomacy Initiatives
The advancement of the digital goals of Pakistan and the promotion of interests on an international level have great benefits from digital diplomacy. The creation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Digital Diplomacy Division, among such efforts, is tasked with improving the digital reputation of Pakistan by connecting it to an international audience by utilizing technologies and platforms to fulfill the nation’s foreign policy goals.
Through initiatives, it has become easy for Pakistan to make itself a strong software power with foreign audiences’ connections and increase its influence internationally. As discussed above, virtual dashboards offer real-time data and visions of a nation’s struggle in the digital field. Social media traffic plays a vital role in making judgments about diplomatic technology strategies.
Challenges Faced by Pakistan’s Digital Diplomacy Efforts
According to the report, South Asia’s Digital Opportunity: Accelerating Growth, Transforming Lives, certain difficulties and challenges are still there in the sense of digital development, which is why Pakistan is lagging as compared to nations around the world. The need for concentration is due to the requirement to accelerate the pace of digital transformation in Pakistan, according to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). Thus, according to it, there must be the promotion of Pakistan’s digital agenda through diplomatic channels. This will ultimately encourage communication with other countries for alliances in the digital domain.
Pakistan is progressing in embracing the digital agenda but is facing several difficulties in making digital diplomacy strategies practical. This is making it difficult to promote the image, values, and interests of this country effectively at the international level. The lack of a robust digital infrastructure in Pakistan is an important issue for Pakistan’s digital diplomacy.
The efforts of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in digital diplomacy are also hampered by cybersecurity issues. To overcome this, proper security systems and training courses for staff are needed.
Comparing Pakistan’s Digital Diplomacy Efforts to Other Countries
“Annual Report 2021” on Pakistan’s Foreign Office performance is a thorough examination of Pakistan’s FO policy, insightful information on the priorities of the nation, and areas of policy throughout the world. The report also claims that Pakistan still lags behind its competitors at the international level.
Pakistan is making progress in the digital sphere and is still seeking to improve its online presence through useful and classy inventiveness. For example, the US has been acknowledged as a leading country in the digital world. For several years, the US State Department has been communicating throughout the world by using digital platforms, and social media, and it has been leading in all attempts.
Canada is another country that is also having success stories with digital diplomacy initiatives. A platform, Digital Public Square, makes people able to connect freely and steadily. It is a remarkable internet promotion effort by the Canadian government. Moreover, India also started digital programs, for instance, the Digital India program aims to take the society and economy of a country to the next level and empower it digitally. India has also taken digital steps like e-governance, cybersecurity, and online payments in the tech sector to create revolutionary solutions.
Taking on the Challenges: Advice and Solutions
A report, ‘Reimagine our Digital Future – Preparing to Thrive or Survive?’, highlights the conditions for the development of digital skills, amplifies assets in digital infrastructure, and creates well-organized rules and guidelines to empower Pakistan’s digital alteration. Moreover, identifying solutions for the digital development of Pakistan requires the analysis of opportunities, problems, and revolutions.
One of the main obstacles to the advancement of the digital agenda is the absence of digital infrastructure and expertise access in fewer areas of Pakistan. Foreign offices invest in digital infrastructure, broaden technology access, and develop digital literacy after collaborating with organizations internationally to resolve such issues.
Another hurdle is building confidence and trust with foreign audiences. Online discussion dashboards, focus digital outreach, and social media initiatives for influencers could be employed. Moreover, digital diplomacy campaigns advance Pakistan’s interests abroad by using digital platforms and organizing virtual meetings, conferences, and talks with leaders of organizations and diplomats.
Also, by creating a complete digital communication plan, investing in networks, and strengthening digital technology through diplomatic efforts, the Foreign Office may significantly participate in the promotion of Pakistan’s digital communication. Pakistan’s digital agenda can make advancements in the digital age by improving its reputation abroad and interacting with overseas nations.
The Next Steps
The triumph of Pakistan’s digital agenda that advances the interests of the nation in this digital era pivots on the capacity of the Foreign Office. Various initiatives, like the e-visa system, virtual dashboard, and diplomacy policy, are taken by the Foreign Office in the right direction for the sake of advancing the country’s interests and reputation. Also, the creation of an online community for these Pakistanis living abroad is an essential step toward democratic engagement.
Despite advancements in digital diplomacy in Pakistan, some major issues and difficulties are still there that need to be addressed and resolved. Pakistan has to use the DIMEC (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic, and Cultural) matrix for developing a full policy and strategy.
Foreign offices can take new initiatives with the assistance of defense, information, economic, and business ministries. There is a need to direct the Foreign Office’s public diplomacy division toward these aims and to hire a group of committed experts in the digital realm. This will provide the required technical infrastructure and human resource capacity.
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