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Breaking BRICS’ impasse on terror
The 9th annual summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries, which took place in the Chinese city of Xiamen on September 4-5, 2017, is historic in the sense that it started with an uncertain note but ended positively. This generated a sense of optimism among the policy makers as well as academics that despite many odds, this multilateral body is going to play a role in regulating relations among these five countries from four different continents. One must add here that this summit took place against the backdrop of the Doklam crisis, where two members of BRICS — India and China —were in an “eyeball to eyeball” stand-off. Similarly, before the start of the BRICS Summit, North Korea, an ally of China, conducted a nuclear test, which created ripple, especially in the East Asian region. Third, the summit took place against the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s announcement in which he unveiled a new strategy towards Afghanistan. Though Trump’s speech is nothing to do with the BRICS Summit, he outlined American strategic engagement with Afghanistan which may have a repercussion on the interests of Russia and China in this part of the world.
The Xiamen Declaration, titled “BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future”, called for efforts to make a safer and “sustainable world order” and emphasised on “peace”, “security”, “cooperation”, “development”. One interesting aspect, which has come out of the Xiamen Summit is naming for the first time “Taliban, ISIS/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates, including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir” as terror groups and the assertion that “there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism”. By exposing these extremist groups and naming them individually for the first time, the summit vindicated India’s stand that there cannot be double standard while fighting terrorism. It has been observed that over the years some of these radical groups are hand in glove with Pakistan’s Intelligence agency ISI and India is the worst sufferer because of the activities of these terrorist organisations. Along with India, both Russia and China are the victims because of terrorist activities in their respective territories. The influx of radical ISIS forces from the West Asian region is also accentuating the volatility for both the countries.
It is not only Pakistan, which is supporting these terrorist groups, even China (despite facing its own radical problem in Xinjiang) has been engaging with Taliban since 2014. As reported, Chinese are doing so in the hope of getting support from this dreaded terrorist organisation so that it can neutralise its own radicals in the North West Frontier province. In addition to neutralising these radicals, Beijing hoped to get a secure space to harness mineral resources located in Afghanistan. As reported in the Pakistan newspaper, Express Tribunal, (dated March 7, 2017) Taliban officials visited China in February 2017. These officials stated that China “wants to play its vital role for peace and stability in Afghanistan. That is why it invited the Taliban”. Similarly, on a number of occasions China obstructed India’s move to ban terrorist organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad and its Chief Masood Azhar citing “insufficient evidence” in the United Nations.
China’s double standard in fighting terrorism was exposed when, in a calculative move, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif visited China immediately after the BRICS Summit. As reported in the official Chinese Daily Global Times dated September 9, 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi termed “Pakistan has been a good brother and an iron-clad friend to China. No country understands Pakistan better than China”. Just after the visit of the Pakistan’s Foreign Minister to China, both the countries conducted joint air force exercises known as “Shaheen V” to rejuvenate their relationship. This exercise will continue till the end of this month. China’s engagement with Pakistan is contrary to the spirit of the BRICS Declaration, which directly or indirectly castigated Pakistan for its role in aiding and abetting terrorism. One may note here that Russia also suffered immensely at the hands of these radical forces and was forced to act against terror emanating from Afghanistan and Central Asia. The spurt of terrorist activities in the North Caucasus region, along with the explosions in the St Petersburg metro, is some of the factors which may have changed Russia’s approach towards Taliban in recent months.
The second important issue extensively discussed in the 9th BRICS Summit was on global security. The summit called for “sustainable peace” in the global security structure and condemned “unilateral military interventions, economic sanctions and arbitrary use of unilateral coercive measures in violation of international law”. It may be recalled here that in the post-Cold War world order, “economic sanctions” and intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign country are quite rampant. In this connection one may add here that China contrary to the BRICS Declaration is consistently pursuing a hegemonistic policy in the Asian security structure. The recent Doklam incident is a good example of this policy. By violating all the existing international law, it infringed upon the sovereignty of Bhutan and planned to construct a road connecting with Tibet through the Indian territory of Sikkim. As stated by planning to construct the road, the Chinese policy makers thought that they can encircle India from its Eastern frontiers. The much-hyped One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, which the Chinese policy makers are initiating in recent years, is also providing a structural framework which is facilitating Beijing’s “Grand imperial designs”. Chinese President Xi Jinping, while inaugurating the OBOR project way back in May 2014, stated that “we should build the Belt and Road into a road for peace”. However, Chinese strategic behaviour over the years demonstrates that it uses trade as a means to expand its sphere of influence across the globe spanning three continents — Asia, Europe and Africa. Through OBOR, China is trying to follow similar policies what the European colonial masters pursued in Africa and Asia in the aftermath of the industrial revolution. China’s OBOR project is being ably supported by the soft power strategy it is pursuing in the name of Confucius Centre established in different parts of the world to propagate Chinese culture. The question that arises here is when one member state is pursuing a jingoistic geopolitical ambition than how can BRICS countries achieve the desired goal of “cooperative and equitable world order” as envisaged in the BRICS Declaration?
The third issue which has been extensively discussed in this BRICS Summit is the question of energy security. The “Sustainable Development” model, which the Xiamen BRICS Summit has envisaged, called for a “low carbon energy economy” model which can sustain the BRICS countries. Despite polemics on the above-mentioned issues, there is a growing consensus within the BRICS fold on climate change as well as diversification of energy sources. The synergy within the BRICS countries over energy stems from the fact that both India and China are under a process of massive economic modernisation and Russia is one of the largest suppliers of conventional sources of energy. Similarly Brazil’s experience of successful harnessing of bio-ethanol is much appreciable. One may recall here that at the Paris Conference on Climate Change, which took place in December 2015, BRICS countries took noteworthy steps to ensure a due representation of their viewpoints on climate change and renewable energy (RE). To meet energy deficit, the Xiamen Summit has also strongly advocated the use of RE and called for a long-term action plan based on the principles of “accessibility”, “availability” and “affordability” of both “resources” as well as “technology”. It may be underlined here that the debate on RE as it happened in the Xiamen Summit is more or less consistent with India’s approach to the debate on RE.
As far as India’s role in the Xiamen Summit is concerned, it is a huge diplomatic victory for New Delhi. Some of the issues like cross-border terrorism, narco-trafficking, money laundering, and role of Pakistan in aiding and abetting terrorism, which India has been raising in almost all the international multinational bodies, have been reflected in the Xiamen Declaration. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his intervention at the Session on “BRICS Emerging Markets and Developing Countries Dialogue” also gave a holistic perspective on security by emphasising on three core issues namely “Counter Terrorism” and “Creating a Greener World by taking concerted action on countering Climate Change” through initiatives such as “the International Solar Alliance”.
In nutshell, one can add here that BRICS Summit held at Xiamen helped in breaking the conventional norms associated with this multilateral body. Issues like naming of terrorist groups and their chief patron Pakistan, eliminating all forms of radicalism and extremism, including terror finance, got adequate attention in the Xiamen Declaration. China, which used to play a dominant role in the previous summit meetings, was on the back foot when two of its closest allies Pakistan and North Korea (both are rogue states) faced criticism from member states. Hope China will give up its nefarious intents and work in collaboration with other member states, then only BRICS can emerge as a voice for Global South.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, CRCAS, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
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