The India-Pakistan conflict has remained intractable for decades, and much has been written on the causes and nature of the conflict. To be sure, studies abound on how to resolve the conflict and ensure sustainable peace between the two conflicting states. However, few of these studies focus on the use of soft power as a tool for transforming the conflict between India and Pakistan. This is a gap in the literature, which this study sought to fill. This study therefore explores, from a Pakistani perspective, the plausibility and challenges of soft power to transform the conflict between India and Pakistan which has negative development implications for South Asia. Such a conflict transformation approach addresses the root causes of conflict by altering the psycho-social conditions and political environment at micro i.e., personal and macro i.e., structural levels.
Using a qualitative approach, primary data was collected through semi-structured interview of 6 clusters of interviewees namely, government officials in Pakistan and South Africa, and soft power individuals such as renowned businessmen, personalities from the entertainment industry, politicians and retired diplomats, civil society members and sports persons. Archives were also consulted mainly from 3 institutions viz. the National Archives of Pakistan, archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan and the National Documentation Center in Pakistan. Published books of politicians, diplomats, sports persons and movie actors have also been consulted, which provide first person accounts of India Pakistan relations in the soft power domain. All data collected including from secondary sources were analyzed thematically in line with the research objectives and research questions.
Within a conceptual framework of synergy between soft power, John Lederach’s moral imagination and conflict transformation, the study argues that the soft power tools and resources of both India and Pakistan can be instrumental for unleashing the potential and moral imagination of people in both countries to view one another in a positive light and co-exist in healthy competition. The findings show, for example, that both countries share a commonly spoken language, there are followers of the same religious sects on both sides of the border, both nations have an interest in the same sports, particularly cricket, they share a common culture, similar day-to-day fashions and modes of expression as well as successful film industries. However, a hard power approach pursued by the ruling elite of both nations, amongst other challenges, has hampered the prospects of peace in these countries with negative implications for South Asia. This notwithstanding, opportunities exist for the conflict to be transformed through a soft power approach to politics.
Given its intractable and perennial nature, the study concludes that the India Pakistani conflict lies deep in the hearts of people of both nations, and solutions need to be people-focused and tailored to change hearts and minds. India and Pakistan, as nuclear powers, cannot subdue each other. They have also failed to resolve this conflict as its management has only temporarily resulted in cooling down tensions. Therefore, durable peace between the two nations is possible when there is a change of heart on both sides. This change of heart will have to be among the ruling elite as well as the masses. The findings of the study show that people of India and Pakistan have the latent potential to view one another in a positive light, and this can be brought to the fore through moral imagination. The transformation generated by moral considerations will create conditions preparing the ground for durable and positive peace in South Asia. India and Pakistan also share moral responsibility to save millions of lives and improve the lives of millions of their poverty-stricken citizens, and this can be done if they can transform their hostile relations into mutually beneficial ties rooted in a humane conception of interstate politics. The study makes a number of recommendations, which amongst others, include the concept of conflict transformation needs to be advanced at official level of engagement between the India and Pakistan governments; mainstreaming conflict transformation into their respective foreign policies towards each other; imparting peace education through curricula change at all levels learning from elemental to tertiary institutions in both countries; establishing visa-free corridors linking up the border cities of both nations to enhance travel and tourism, and building cultural centers as vehicles for unleashing and cementing shared cultural heritage between the two nations.