In conversation with Jauhar Saleem, Ambassador of Pakistan to Germany

Jauhar Saleem, Shaheen Rajan

When it comes to culture, one may assume that Germany and Pakistan have as much in common as night with day. Despite the stark contrast, Jauhar Saleem – Ambassador of Pakistan to Germany – insists on organising cultural shows in Berlin to commemorate days like independence and Pakistan day; his latest endeavour was the Emerging Pakistan Fashion Show to celebrate the 78th Pakistan Day, starring YBQ Design Studio with its Sufi Rock presentation.

Shaheen Rajan sat down with him post-celebrations to know more and unravel the mystery behind his “softer” approach to diplomacy.

Shaheen Rajan: Your Excellency, this is your fourth cultural show since you assumed office as the Ambassador in 2016. What is the purpose for organising such events?

Jauhar Saleem: Emerging Pakistan was an all-encompassing cultural show. There was fashion, jewellery exhibit, kathak dance and poetry rendition. It had theatrical performance and music weaved in as well. All of these elements are strengths of our culture, and need to be showcased to international audience.

We need to communicate that fashion has been part of our civilisation for much longer than many assume – as far back as the Mohenjo-Daro Harappa. We introduced textile to the world. We also have a commendable tradition of music and poetry. Wit Emerging Pakistan, the Embassy also tried to convey that Islam is a religion of peace, and at its core lay love and good deeds.

The idea was to showcase real Pakistan to Germany, which is nothing like the lopsided image that has been presented by international media. And I think we did a good job at it.

SR: In attendance at the show were German dignitaries and diplomats; how do they reconcile the difference between our culture with their own?

JS: I agree that in some ways, we are very different from each other, but in other ways, we are very similar, especially on music and arts’ front. If you talk about music, classical German melodies have a low tone but there is also opera, which is as high as it gets. In fashion and innovational sphere, Berlin has its own fashion week. It is also often cited as the city for innovation – from theatre to architecture.

I think that as the world moves towards globalisation, people are moving out of their traditional spheres to at least synthesize, if not cross over. There are fusions everywhere, especially in cultural traditions.

Despite our differences, Pakistani culture is very attractive to Germans. It is the contrast that makes it fascinating. For instance, when the Europeans were first exposed to Chinese culture and arts a couple of hundred years ago, they were fascinated. This intrigue led to a commendable amount trade between the two economies. Europeans markets were full of silks from China, even when they didn’t know how to use it.

Similarly, they are interested in our culture. It is now upon us to expose them to colours of Pakistan – our music, culture and the fact that we are some of the most friendly, vibrant and lively people out there. We have a survey results to prove that now. A recent study conducted globally revealed that in South Asia, Pakistan is the happiest country. Much ahead of India and other countries. It can be credited to the Punjab’s love for merry and music, Sindh’s devotion to colours, and breath-taking beauty of North. We just have to show all of this to the world, and expose them to how amazing Pakistan really is.

SR: You are often cited to opt for a softer approach to diplomacy instead of traditional, politics-focused route. How has it worked for you so far?

JS: Diplomacy has many facets and a successful approach needs to have a combination. Political diplomacy is our bread and butter, and a constant. It takes place when I have meetings with German leadership, foreign office, different ministries, defence attachés and parliamentarians.

But in current times, this is not enough. Political diplomacy has to be complemented by economic diplomacy – such as our business-focused seminars and conferences in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Dusseldorf, as well as cultural and public diplomacy. A decade or so ago, ambassadors and diplomats were very elitists. Diplomacy was conducted amongst a selected group, and within closed doors. Singular focus on political diplomacy worked in those times, but today, with democracy and increased participation of media and public, this approach is passé.

Now you have to complement political diplomacy with economic, cultural and public diplomacy. And these tools had been under-utilised by many, but we are changing that. And I am very glad to share that it has produced amazing results for us.

SR: How do you Pakistan-Germany relationship developing in coming years?

JS: Pakistan and Germany have a long-standing tradition of cooperation, which spans across commercial, developmental, scientific, educational and technological endeavours. We have over 5,000 Pakistani students here, bilateral trade is on the upswing, and there are other projects in progress as well.

As for political relationship, Germany finally has a government in office now after six months of elections. There hasn’t been as much cooperation between the two countries as we would have liked, but once upcoming elections in Pakistan are over, we are planning high-level state visits to further strengthen the relationship between the Germany and Pakistan.

Jauhar Saleem
Jauhar Saleem

SR: As an Ambassador of Pakistan, what challenges have you incurred in your journey so far?

JS: There are some misconceptions about Pakistan, but our country isn’t the only one dealing with it. Misrepresentation happens to many others countries as well, but some get luckier than others and manage to avoid the repercussions. For example, the USA had the highest number of homicide and street crime cases in 80s and 90s. Despite the alarming numbers, tourists continued to flock the towns because of other attractions.

On the flip side, even during our worst times of terrorist attacks and crimes, the number of casualties in Pakistan was lower compared to victims of street crimes in the USA. But as there is a certain stigma and value of sensationalism attached to terrorism, it makes it to headlines all around the world. We are labelled as a safe haven for terrorists. The truth is that in the last decade, we have managed to clean some of our front regions that were infested by terrorists – a job done better than the one that NATO did in Afghanistan.

So there are some challenges but with our approach to diplomacy, we are striving to remove those misperceptions and communicate our story.

SR: Berlin is becoming a rather popular destination for travellers in Pakistan. What would your personal suggestion be for three must-have Berlin experiences?

JS: First, Berlin has a very rich history. So, I would recommend for travellers to read up or watch movies set in Berlin – like Bridge of Spies. This would equip you to relate to the history, and appreciate its preservation as well.

Second, arts and culture. This city has a tremendous number of museums, Philharmoniker, musicians and innovators. They are etched in the city’s culture. You must get involved with it – visit these wonderful institutions and engage with artists.

Lastly, you can experience first-hand what makes Germany a great nation in terms of economic power. Their work ethic, vocational trainings and commitment of quality make them a great brand. And we can all learn from it.

This interview with Jauhar Saleem was originally published in Runway Pakistan.

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