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Will anything really change, post-BRICS?

Harsha Kakar |

There were immense expectations from the BRICS summit, especially since it was to result in the first meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping after the stand down at Doklam. The summit statement was, as claimed by many, a win for Indian diplomacy as it contained direct reference to terror groups operating from Pakistan’s soil, though it did not name Pakistan. The meeting between Modi and Xi was also up to expectations.

It was termed as ‘forward looking’ implying the nations were moving ahead, leaving Doklam in the past. The summit joint statement naming terror groups operating from Pakistan did come as a pleasant surprise, as the same BRICS leaders had refused to include them in the last summit in Goa.

However, its impact remains in doubt. The statement mentioned Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, Haqqani network, LeT and JeM, all of which operate from Pakistani soil and are supported by the deep state. It also mentioned the TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which operate from Afghanistan and target Pakistan alongside groups operating in Xinjiang and Uzbekistan. Pakistan, as expected, reacted immediately and rejected the BRICS statement.

In the same breath, it welcomed the mention of the TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir, as it targets them. Interestingly, these contradictions indicated their own divided house and launched an internal debate.

They stated that no anti-Afghan terror groups operate on their soil, but are based in Afghanistan with only remnants in Pakistan. There was no immediate statement about the LeT and JeM, which was proof enough that they do exist on Pakistani soil. Subsequently, their defence minister did state that Pakistan should do more to restrict their activities.

An irony of the times for Pakistan is that the nations which signed the declaration include Russia and China, the two priority nations in the agenda of visits by their foreign minister as he seeks to counter US pressures.

He did visit China and the joint statement made no reference to terror groups, but supported Pakistan’s fight on terror, which was a typical diplomatic statement, implying nothing. Pakistan is already in US cross hairs and the BRICS statement further dilutes its position. Pakistan also would have wondered how its supporters, China and Russia, agreed to Indian demands to tag it as a terrorsupporting state. Possibly, China was seeking a successful summit and under pressure from majority members was compelled to agree.

The declaration is in no way binding on other nations, however it conveys a message. It is unknown whether China would pressurize Pakistan to reduce support to terror groups post this statement, though India would hope so. LeT and JeM are already internationally designated terror groups by the United Nations, hence adding them in the BRICS statement may not be anything new or surprising. Similarly, China changing its stance on Masood Azar, when the case comes up again in end October, for his being nominated a global terrorist by the UN security council is unlikely.

The two cases are entirely different, though Indians would clamour, if China extends the technical ban, that this displays Chinese double standards. But in international relations, it is national interests first. Hence, we should not have high hopes in this regard.

More important for India was the meeting between PM Modi and Xi Jinping. It pushed Doklam to the backburner and a decision to move forward, cooperating in other fields, came to the forefront. There was no discussion on India’s membership into the NSG.

A decision to enhance military-to-military interaction and cooperation was suggested, as the means to avoid future standoffs. Positive statements, no doubt, but would they prevent further clashes, standoffs and intrusions? It is unlikely. There are varying perceptions of claims between the two nations which talks have failed to remove for decades. Neither nation is willing to surrender its claims nor ignore any offensive movement of the other. Despite tall claims and diplomatic statements, the situation on the ground is unlikely to change.

Troops from both sides would continue seeking to dominate regions they consider their own, hence standoffs are very likely to be a part of the routine. However they may be less damaging than Doklam. This was also stated by the army chief in a seminar recently, when he mentioned Chinese salami slicing would continue, which drew criticism from China.

It is most important to enlarge the levels of interaction between the two militaries by establishing hotlines at different levels. China has offset this by stating it needs notice before activating its side of the hotline, defeating its very purpose, as also indicating its intentions of not seeking immediate resolutions to any crises in the future too. Another important aspect is enhanced military-to-military deliberations to find methods to eliminate physical contact as occurred in Doklam and Pangong lake in Ladakh. Jostling may have happened earlier, but use of stones and sticks and posting the same on social media is a new trend which needs to be curbed. Further, physical violence could escalate, which neither side desires.

Hence, the importance of hotlines to immediately bring the situation under control. India achieved more than it expected in Xiamen. It managed to push Pakistan on the backfoot, compelling China to accept the fact that it is a terror-supporting nation. It reduced the impact which Pakistan hoped to gain by seeking support against US threats, from Russia and China. More importantly, India and China pushed the Doklam standoff to the backburner and decided to take the relationship forward in other fields including economic.

The joint decision to enhance military-to-military cooperation would go a long way in reducing border tensions and standoffs, if correctly implemented. Border incidents would continue as China seeks to be proactive on its claim lines.

Expecting China to lift its technical ban on Masood Azar or support Indian entry into the NSG or even to ask Pakistan to control terror groups in the near term, is unlikely. Despite normalising relations with India, China would first consider its own national interests, which lie in supporting Pakistan.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)