Lesson from the Brics

October 23, 2016

Despite a small success at the Brics summit, thanks to the Chinese help, Pakistan needs to urgently address the issue of its isolation in both regional and wider global platforms

Lesson from the Brics

The 8th Brics (an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit which ended last Sunday was the first to be held under Narendra Modi’s prime ministership in Goa, India. The summit afforded Narendra Modi an opportunity to strut his leadership credentials on a wider scale.

The declaration issued at the end of the conference was wide-ranging, befitting the status of the Brics as an influential voice of the developing world. The final declaration covered a vast spectrum of global challenges and issues.

Despite its sweeping range, the declaration is being pored over in Asia for what it said about the region or what it left unsaid. Given that Pakistan and India are locked in another mini-skirmish over Kashmir, the declaration was combed for what it said about the recent bust-up and its political fallout. The final declaration shied away from openly criticising Pakistan as the alleged sponsor of recent terrorist attacks in India, thus containing their political fallout to some extent.

More importantly, militant religious outfits such as Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) did not figure in the final declaration as desired by the Indian delegation. Predictably, within considerable sections of the Indian media a sense of national hurt was detected in this wilful act of omission by other countries. This narrative runs like this: Russia and China did not fully endorse Modi’s efforts to condemn Pakistan in the clearest possible terms for its alleged sponsorship of terrorism. This was further amplified in China and Russia getting their favoured terrorist groups in the final draft while blocking any explicit reference to Pakistan terrorist outfits as desired by India. And the fact that Russia toed Chinese line on this issue which is hugely important to India reflects negatively on the current state of relations between Russia and India.

This perceived lack of support for the Indian position on Pakistani state’s role in terrorism has raised the broader point of usefulness of Russia and China in the Brics for Indian stance on Pakistan. In this view, India is seen to be done down by the giants of the Brics once again.

In another narrative, India has come out stronger from the conference for winning some acceptance for its claim to become member of the United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group besides signing far-reaching defence deals with Russia.

India can also claim some success in propping up a new regional block called The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, or Bimstec. The block is composed of regional countries including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan (Pakistan was not invited to the Bimstec summit).

China is finely balancing its political positioning between India and Pakistan while keeping its economic relations with India in good fettle.

The opening summit of Bimstec countries ran parallel to the Brics summit. The new regional block also figured in the final declaration of the Brics summit. Many commentators see the new group as an attempt to dilute the influence of Saarc in the region. The Saarc is already weakened by the boycott of regional leaders of the Islamabad summit.

Pakistan, on the other hand, can take comfort in the fact that it did not attract the type of censure India desired in the final declaration. Yet this perceived victory is a hollow one because of terrorism assuming menacing domestic proportions from its previous foreign-limited outings in the neighbouring countries. Pakistan needs to confront this menace head on. There is some progress in evidence in recent years. This progress should be extended to foreign entanglement of domestic terrorist outfits.

India, too, needs to move away from its Pakistan-centric approach and promote peace for the prosperity and progress of the region as a whole rather than focusing its entire political strategy on isolating Pakistan. Both countries need to adopt the path of peace and mutual cooperation. Already Indo-Pak mutual hostility has dragged both countries down the path of poverty and underdevelopment.

Though India feels slightly miffed at Brics’ usefulness for its own local and strategic purposes, the organisation serves wider-than-India focus of giving voice to the concerns of developing countries on vital global issues. It also needs to be acknowledged by India that Russia and China are in a different league in terms of their international weight.

China is now a major global power. Because of its presence in the Security Council and its global influence, its canvass of interests is wider. So is Russia which has emerged as an influential voice in resolution of conflicts in the Middle East. Hence, China is finely balancing its political positioning between India and Pakistan while keeping its economic relations with India in good fettle. At the global level, Chinese and Russian interests converge in Syria and Central Asian States. That is where Pakistan’s usefulness to Russian and Chinese strategic interests kicks in.

However, despite some displeasure, India signed a far-reaching defence deal with Russia. The fact that it is happening against the backdrop of India’s growing closeness with the US speaks volumes about Indian diplomacy.

Beyond small success at the Brics summit thanks to the Chinese help, Pakistan needs to urgently address the issue of its isolation in both regional and wider global platforms. The formation of Bimstec clearly spotlights an attempt to isolate Pakistan regionally. The response should not be a knee-jerk anti-Indianism but a careful strategy to engage productively with all neighbours. The process should be based on a ‘zero-problems with all our neighbours’ approach.

By continuing with our flawed policy of strategic depth, we are in tension with all our neighbours, from Iran to Afghanistan. Only China remains the lone friend in the region partly because of historical reasons and partly because of Chinese well though-out economic and strategic interests in the region and Pakistan. We cannot be punching forever above our weight because of Chinese support which is being increasingly accorded on a case-by-case basis, as China is immersed in greater regional and global political games of high stakes.

Lesson from the Brics