THE 8th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit was held on October 15-16 in Goa in the wake of interesting political developments on the international stage. These developments could have an impact on the future of the grouping, which aims to challenge the G7, the rich nations’ club. Brazil, one of the movers behind the organisation, witnessed regime change this year. The country’s new President, Michel Temer, who replaced the popularly elected Dilma Rousseff in the middle of this year, lacks political legitimacy. Brazil’s foreign policy has taken a rightward turn. It has moved closer to the United States on major foreign policy issues, especially those relating to Latin America.
India, under the Bharatiya Janata Party, has taken a similar track and is now counted as one of the U.S.’ foremost allies in the Asia region. On the other hand, Russia and China have become even closer allies. Russia is supporting China’s game-changing One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and other economic projects in Asia and elsewhere. China is giving strong diplomatic support to Russia’s position on Syria and other key international issues. South Africa generally follows an independent foreign policy, but the ruling African National Congress’ foreign policy blueprint emphasises special economic ties with China. The clout of the BRICS grouping has also diminished because of the slowdown of economic growth, especially in Brazil, Russia and South Africa. The Indian economy seems to be on the verge of stalling while China is hitting the limits of its growth. India is the only BRICS country whose total imports outstrip its exports. All the same, BRICS accounts for more than half of the world’s population and a quarter of its gross domestic product.
Despite some of the inherent differences between the countries, the Goa summit has been described as a success. The Presidents of China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa were all present. The Goa Declaration, titled “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions”, was issued at the end of the summit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had wanted a strong condemnation of terrorism in the Declaration. In his closing speech at the summit, Modi forcefully targeted terrorism. In a barely concealed reference to Pakistan, he described the country as “the mothership of terrorism”. In Islamabad, Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, responded to Modi’s charges by saying that the Indian Prime Minister was misleading the international community. He called on it to make India accountable for “brutalities” in Kashmir and for the non-implementation of “relevant UNSC [United Nations Security Council] resolutions” on the Kashmir issue.
The leaders of the other BRICS nations used more polite language while talking about the dangers posed by international terror groups. Russia was more interested in discussing the serious terrorist threat the international community faced from groups such as the Daesh (Islamic State) and the al Nusra Front. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that terrorism could only be meaningfully tackled by addressing “issues on the ground with concrete efforts and multipronged approach that addresses both symptoms and root causes”. The leaders of South Africa and Brazil preferred to focus on economic issues and on the need to increase intra-BRICS investment.
India went out on a limb to persuade the other member states to adopt tough language in the final declaration by specifically mentioning the dangers posed by state-sponsored terrorism. India, it seems, was in a minority of one on the issue. In his concluding speech, Modi said that the BRICS member states had “agreed that those who nurture, shelter, support and sponsor such forces of violence and terror are as much a source of terror to us as are the terrorists”. The final Goa Declaration, however, pointedly did not condemn alleged acts of state terrorism. “On the security front, the bloc strongly condemned the recent attacks against some BRICS countries and agreed to strengthen cooperation among BRICS countries to combat international terrorism both at the bilateral level and at international fora,” the Declaration stated. It specifically mentioned the Daesh, the al Nusra Front and other outfits the U.N. has designated as terror groups, but Jaish-e-Mohamed (JeM), which India holds responsible for many terror attacks on its soil, did not find a mention. Xi is still not willing to back India’s move in the U.N. to brand the JeM leader, Masood Azhar, a “terrorist”, though Modi brought up the issue during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India and China must increase their coordination in the U.N. Security Council 1267 Committee [that looks into terror-related sanctions] while building a long-term road map on countering terrorism,” the spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said after the meeting between the two leaders. Beijing said that due process should be observed and more clinching evidence was needed to prove the charges of terrorism against the JeM leader.BIMSTEC
India’s stance on terrorism received somewhat more tangible support from the seven leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) bloc of countries whom Modi had also invited to Goa. Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan are members of this grouping. India is giving more importance to BIMSTEC these days than it is to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Privately, senior Indian officials do not give SAARC much of a future. The BIMSTEC summit, which was held on October 17, issued a statement criticising states “which support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups”.
It was obvious that the leaders of the two leading BRIC nations, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Xi, did not want to get mired in the dispute between perennially hostile India and Pakistan. The international community is no doubt aware, though it rarely brings the subject up in international forums, that the root cause of the problem is the unresolved dispute in Kashmir. The world’s leading powers, including the U.S., have been urging India and Pakistan to resume talks. Russia and China could as well point out other state actors who have been actively exporting terror to West Asia and elsewhere. Recent WikiLeaks revelations show that the U.S. was conniving with countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to finance terror in Syria.
The other key reason for the reluctance of China and Russia to openly name and shame Pakistan is the fast-changing military and political situation in Afghanistan and West Asia. The Daesh is going to be left without an emirate in the near future, and many of its fighters will be heading to Afghanistan and to their native lands. Many of those fighting with the Daesh and the al Nusra Front are from the Caucasus and Xinjiang, an autonomous region in north-west China. Their return will pose a serious threat to the security of Russia and China. Pakistan’s cooperation will be needed for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has already made significant gains. The Daesh has also established a foothold in Afghanistan and claims a following in the Indian subcontinent.
It is therefore not surprising that Russia and China did not look at Pakistan and the problem of terrorism exclusively through the prism of Indian officialdom and a jingoistic media. The joint statement issued after the separate India-Russia summit did offer support for India’s “surgical” response to “cross-border” terrorism. Russia signed lucrative multibillion-dollar defence and energy deals with India during the bilateral summit. The defence deals are worth more than $10 billion. India will be buying five S-400 air defence systems and four stealth frigates. A memorandum of understanding was signed for a joint venture to produce Kamov-226T helicopters. India also sent out the message that Russia would continue to be a valuable defence and strategic partner for the foreseeable future.
But in a multilateral grouping such as BRICS, Moscow preferred to go along with the majority opinion. Russia and Pakistan had only recently completed joint military exercises aimed at combating terrorism. With India’s tilt towards the U.S. getting accentuated, Russia wants to keep its options open. Russia is happy that the BRICS Declaration supported its initiative to work for an international convention to “prohibit chemical and biological terrorism”. It was the first time this issue was mentioned in a BRICS statement. Moscow was also satisfied with the mention about the “unacceptability of unilateral sanctions” being imposed on sovereign states. The West has imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions against Russia after the events in Ukraine two years ago.
After the conclusion of the BRICS summit, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the international community should recognise the “great sacrifices” Pakistan had made in combating terrorism. She pointed out that China’s position on the issue of terrorism had been consistent. “We oppose linking terrorism with any specific ethnicity or religion… India and Pakistan are both victims of terrorism,” she said. Not much progress has been made on India’s attempts to enter the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) either, after the meeting between Modi and Xi on the sidelines of the summit. The Chinese side has let it be known that there is as yet no consensus on the issue among NSG members and that as things stand India was ineligible for membership because it was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Despite the differences on the approach to be taken on the issue of terrorism, the BRICS grouping has remained united on major economic issues. India, however, is conspicuous by its absence in China’s OBOR initiative. All the countries in Asia, including the BIMSTEC nations barring India, and Russia have given great importance to the project. Russia and China have agreed to closer linkages between OBOR and the Eurasian Economic Union, which consists of Russia and Central Asian countries. Russia, China and Iran are building a north-south trade corridor. Russia and India have announced plans to build an energy corridor linking the two countries. The connection can only be through Chinese territory or via Pakistan. China is the only country that has the kind of funds to invest in huge infrastructural projects in South and Central Asia. China has already pledged $50 billion to Pakistan and $24 billion to Bangladesh.
The Goa Declaration highlights the important role played by the BRICS-backed New Development Bank in attracting foreign investment and supporting renewable energy and infrastructural projects. The BRICS nations have sent a strong signal that they stand united in the goal of uniting their markets, providing accessible capital and ensuring mutual ease of doing business. The Declaration called for capacity building of micro, small and medium industries as they are an important source of employment. The summit also called for closer cooperation on issues relating to intellectual property rights and the digital economy.
Over the years, BRICS has come to have a bigger say in international affairs and in addressing global challenges. BRICS, along with developing countries, has played a crucial role in stabilising the world economy. The goal of the BRICS grouping is to accelerate the transition from a Western-dominated global economy to one that sees the participation of both the developed and the developing world.