Sultan M Hali
THIS scribe is currently visiting Moscow to participate in the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS). The city is agog with sociable Ministry of Defence staffers keen to make the stay of over 850 guests from ninety countries comfortable. The temperature is ranging between three degrees below zero to three above but the snow from the last snowfall, still frozen on the sidewalks, chills one to the bones. The traditional Russian hospitability however is full of warmth. One would have expected that with the diplomatic row stirred by Britain and numerous other Occidental nations including the US following suit, would have marred the environment but it did not stop the guests from pouring in. The growing Pak-Russo ties are visible. Although these ties are not either/or vis-à-vis India as Indo-Russo ties have been traditional and the erstwhile USSR as well as Russia have been India’s greatest arms suppliers till the Washington decided to cozy up to New Delhi, albeit for its own ethnocentric reasons, Moscow has moved closer to Islamabad.
India’s Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is also in town, embarking on her maiden three-day visit, as defence minister, to Moscow. It was heartening to note former Russian diplomat, Gleb Ivashentsov, defending Moscow’s growing strategic ties with Islamabad, stating that “refusing dialogue with Pakistan would not be in the interest of Russia.” Video conferencing from Moscow, Ivashentsov added: “We view Pakistan as a major state with around 200 million people. It is a nuclear state. It is a country which plays an important role in regional and international matters.” The former director of Russian foreign ministry’s Second Asian Department (2AD) was speaking at a forum, ‘Regional Security: A view from Moscow and Delhi’, organized simultaneously in New Delhi and Moscow on the eve of MCIS.
“It is noteworthy that Pakistan has joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) since it is a regional counter-terrorism organization. The participation of Pakistan in this framework should make a positive difference,” Ivashentsov, who is a member of Russian foreign ministry’s official think tank Russian Council for International Affairs (RIAC), held. Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full-time members of the Beijing-headquartered eight-member bloc at the grouping’s summit in Astana last year. Gleb Ivashentsov categorically stated that Moscow couldn’t go back on its growing military cooperation with Pakistan, much to the chagrin of New Delhi. “We cannot embargo our deliveries to Pakistan. Because it is a sovereign state with a sovereign policy,” Ivashentsov said, adding that Moscow had, so far, only supplied helicopters to Pakistan. Although a number of joint military exercises have recently been conducted between the duo that had hostile relations during the cold war era and had crossed swords indirectly during the Soviet occupation of Kabul.
Noting that the road to peace in Afghanistan passed through Pakistan, Russian MP and deputy leader of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security Alexei Kondratiev stated that international cooperation in Afghanistan was being hampered by the US. “There is an attempt to portray Russia as a force of evil in Afghanistan. There is an information war against Russia in Afghanistan’s media in this process,” Kondratiev said. “It affects a lot of aspects of political and economic cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan,” he added. The Russian parliamentarian held up Russia’s aerial campaign in Syria as an example that could be replicated to help bring about peace in Afghanistan. He noted that Russian forces’ assault on the Islamic State in Syria had largely been successful as it was able to take care of political, military and social components.
Kondratiev remarked, “Russia has been largely successful in its Syrian operation because it could simultaneously take up all these three factors into consideration and these learnings are vital for situations like that in Afghanistan.” The 2018 MCIS focused on the defeat of terrorists in Syria. Russian participants shared their experience on combating IS and provided estimates on further development of the situation in the Middle East, including post-conflict rehabilitation. Security issues facing Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America were also in the spotlight of the forum. A Special session addressing “Soft power” phenomenon as a tool to pursue military-political objectives was the most popular aspect of the conference.
It was brought out that soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than by coercion (hard power), which is using force or giving money as a means of persuasion. Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. A defining feature of soft power is that it is noncoercive; the currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. Recently, the term has also been used in changing and influencing social and public opinion through relatively less transparent channels and lobbying through powerful political and non-political organizations. Soft power has been criticized as being ineffective by authors such as Niall Ferguson in the preface to Colossus. Neorealist and other rationalist authors dismiss soft power out of hand as they assert that actors in international relations respond to only two types of incentives: economic incentives and force. One is reminded of US President George W Bush, who threatened “either you are with us or against us” as opposed to soft power. Russia, which needs India as a defence market, will never dump it for Pakistan but is willing to accommodate Pakistan in its own calculus in the region.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.