Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered the overhaul of the country’s public diplomacy and information policy for effective projection of the national narrative abroad, by improving the skill set and orientation of ambassadors and their subordinate diplomatic and media staff at all the missions abroad.
As part of the initiative, the prime minister has ordered the creation of a fully-empowered strategic communications division (SCD) within the ministry of foreign affairs, comprising senior officers not only from the foreign ministry and external publicity wing of the information ministry, but also from commerce, national security, tourism and other key ministries, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office.
Documents suggest that Khan had expressed displeasure during the course of a recent meeting, saying that “we have not embraced the public diplomacy and information revolution”.
“The system still works in archaic ways and lacks agility and initiative while major turf issues hold inter-ministerial co-ordination back,” the prime minister stated.
Therefore, Pakistan’s ability to project its foreign policy and national narrative abroad, both proactive or in response to events, was limited and messaging was unco-ordinated and reactive and sometimes even contradictory, Khan observed.
He underpinned deficiencies like the lack of information flow and co-ordination among key ministries and stakeholders’ responsibility for public diplomacy, capacity constraints and outdated standard operating and approval procedures.
Under the plan, the proposed SCD would act as the nerve centre for co-ordinating foreign policy and national narrative projection abroad.
The SCD would also subsume the spokespersons’ office and the almost-dormant public diplomacy wing of the information ministry.
The foreign ministry has been directed to upgrade its projection and public diplomacy capacity.
Currently, it banks on the spokespersons’ office, whose functions are reactive.
Officers of external publicity would be placed in the SCD to co-ordinate the flow of information from the Foreign Office and other ministries and press officers abroad.
Only the prime minister, the foreign ministry and other designated officials would have the authority to speak publicly on foreign policy from the civilian side, while the SCD would be a one-window operation responding to foreign policy-related queries by overseas missions and other government counterparts.
The SCD will be staffed with senior officers well-versed in new media and interest in public diplomacy for a fixed term of three years.
An inter-ministerial spokespersons’ committee would be created with representatives – particularly from the ministries of foreign affairs, information, commerce, tourism, national security division and others – to meet at least fortnightly to discuss Pakistan’s narrative and its projection, future priorities, assign tasks and co-ordinate messaging back and forth.
The deliberations of this committee would be shared with the secretaries’ committee so that they are fully in the picture and there is effective congruence between lower levels and heads of the ministries.
Press officers posted abroad would be reoriented in a manner that their focus is on the host country and not the Pakistani media.
They would be restricted from placing no more than five stories a month in the Pakistani media.
They would be trained to forecast upcoming developments and future media trends that could affect Pakistan.
The Foreign Service Academy would create a one-month training module for new press officers before sending them abroad to let them understand basics of diplomacy and modern communication skills.
Ambassadors would be required to make engagement with the host country media a priority, and dedicate a stipulated minimum amount of time for press officers to arrange their host country media interactions.
Also, ambassadors and the Foreign Office headquarters would devolve authority to a greater number of officers.
In the meantime, the spokespersons’ committee would create and regularly update talking points for media engagement to assist foreign missions.
The ministry of foreign affairs, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, has extremely weak co-ordination with the external publicity wing of the information ministry that is tasked with projecting the country’s point of view internationally.
Currently, the interaction is limited to arranging engagements with foreign journalists visiting or staying in Pakistan.
For all foreign postings of press officers, strict criteria of command in the English language would be a must, and candidates would be processed through additional written and spoken tests.
The information ministry would immediately start language training through private vendors for those going abroad.
Press officers must, at the very least, have basic knowledge of the host country’s working language.
The recruitment interviews would be jointly led by the ministers for foreign affairs and information, with the involvement of the ambassador of the country where the officer would be posted.
Where suitable candidates are unavailable, private sector candidates would be hired competitively for a fixed, one-time term.