Since the coining of the term ‘soft power’ several elements have come to take their place under the canopy of this phrase. These may include anything and everything that can portray a country in favourable light.

In discourses about elements of soft power of Pakistan, the role of the corporate sector is often omitted. Soft power is usually thought to mean culture, arts, fashion, foods, media, sports, film industry, education, and tourism. Economic growth is often termed as hard power alongside military prowess, yet in fact economic status is a significant determinant and reflection of soft power. Business enterprise, an important part of the economic profile, is included among salient indices of the soft power matrix. The emerging market economies know that their economic indicators are the most critical strands of their softer outlook. The fashion industry and tourism industry, for instance, or the export of textiles and food items is directly linked to the business environment in the country. Corporate social responsibility is another important tool to project soft power.

Wielding soft power is not possible without adequate financial resources, which only a vibrant business sector can ensure. An economically weak nation cannot project itself as a soft power even if it has mesmerising scenic resorts, enchanting music and tastebud-tingling cuisines. The marketing slogan of ‘Incredible India’ became credible not due to Bollywood or India’s several tourist attractions, but its status as an emerging economy led by its CEOs revered as national celebrities.

Soft Power30, an international ranking published by consultancy firm Portland, measures soft power by assessing six indices of enterprise, government, global engagement, culture, education and digital innovation. In its 2015 report, four out of top five countries i.e. Britain, Germany, France and Canada received the highest number of points in the ‘Enterprise’ index. Barring the ‘Government’ index which itself is dependent on the state of the economy, the remaining four indices rely on buoyancy of the business enterprise.

American academic Craig Hayden in his book “The Rhetoric of Soft Power: Public Diplomacy in Global Contexts” quotes Japanese writer Monji as saying that, “It goes without saying that the wellspring of soft power lies in the private sector, so any attempt to exercise this power at the national level should be premised on working closely with the private sector.”

We in Pakistan have been trying to project soft image with culture, films, music, fashion and sports – which have remained decadent most times. During President Zia-ul-Haq’s era, the film industry and with it the music industry and arts nosedived. With the start of the 21st century, media revolution, a potent civil society and judicial activism added to the soft power cocktail during the rule of President Musharraf. The 9/11 events in the U.S, however, offset these soft power gains by sucking Pakistan into the terror challenge with its unpleasant consequences for the country’s outlook. During these and subsequent years, Pakistan’s social sector indicators and cricket continued to plummet under the dark shadows of corruption, ill governance and terrorism.

The one aspect of national life that continued to grow despite challenges has been the gradual rise of the business sector. This sector lent a great deal of resilience and stability to the country to withstand economic shocks in the face of national crises. But this most virile symbol of the country’s economic profile and soft power is confronted with problems. Not so much the political turbulence, security or energy crisis but incessant investigations against CEOs are keeping foreign investors away. Despite the country’s economy of $250 billion moving at the fastest pace in eight years, FDI of mere $1 billion has made way into Pakistan in the nine months up to April 2016, estimates Reuters.

A number of corporate leaders have been facing inquiries resurrected time and again even after these were settled in the past. One such corporate icon is Mian Muhammad Mansha of the Nishat Group. Around $400 millions’ worth of commodities exported to the world last year by his group represent a strong soft power reality. The Group is the largest employer in the country after Pakistan Army apart from being the biggest taxpayer in the country. As part of its corporate social responsibility, Nishat Group runs schools, colleges, dispensaries and several welfare projects across the country and gives away substantial financial donations.

Luckily, we are blessed with a fair range of soft power matrix, including the ever strengthening private sector. In an interview to Lahore-based ‘Manager Today’, Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Mr Ahsan Iqbal said: “We are planning to work closely with the private sector to develop a perfect corporate image of Pakistan around the globe. Our media is throwing negativities all the time which distorts our self and country image. We are starting a development communications initiative for changing our internal and external narratives.”This is a welcome move which should also consider that projection of soft power depends on how the leading business executives are treated within the country by the government - as national heroes or suspects in the dock.