As it is being held in the backdrop of Indian Army conducted surgical strikes on terrorist camps across the border, cancellation of annual SAARC summit, and review by New Delhi of granting of ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status to Pakistan on its merchandised goods supplies to India besides the Indus Water Treaty, the BRICS summit brings an opportunity for India to further isolate Islamabad from the international arena.
While Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand-all members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) – are getting an opportunity to interact with leaders of the BRICS, Pakistan is going to be left from the world’s five fastest growing economies’ meet in Goa. During the BRICS-SCO outreach in Ufa, Pakistan had been invited to participate in that diplomatic initiative, thanks to China’s manoeuvrings and Russia’s new found love for Islamabad. But this time, in the changed geo-political situation, Beijing could not influence India on Islamabad’s inclusion for BRICS leaders’ meeting with regional countries. Also, from the beginning, India had harped on conducting BRICS’ outreach meeting with regional countries in keeping with New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ policy.
Overall the two-day BRICS summit in consonance with its theme of building “responsive, inclusive and collective solutions for the grouping,” is to focus on developing synergies among the various existing and established framework mechanism of the group. In fact, right from becoming chairman of the group in the middle of February this year, India emphasized on institution building and implementation of commitments made during past summits. During the summit, host of issues from terrorism to climate change to inadequacy of United Nations in addressing the problems of the world to sustainable development goals are to be discussed and debated by participants.
However, the contentious South China issue, persistent vetoing of India’s bid at the UN to ban the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and blocking of New Delhi’s bid to become a member of the powerful Nuclear Suppliers Group are expected to be flagged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit. It should be recalled that China has used its veto power twice in the past six months to block India’s bid at the UN Security Council to ban Masood Azhar, an accused of the 2001 terrorist attack on Indian parliament and mastermind of Pathankot airforce base and the Uri attacks. While terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad was banned as far as in 2001 itself, its leader Masood Azhar is out of the world body’s sanctions, even as India has produced several documents linking his direct involvement in terrorist activities.
But in order to appease its all-weather friend Pakistan, China has shown that it is ready to go to any length to stay banning of Masood Azhar, seen by Pakistan Army as its strategic asset in countering India’s hold over Kashmir. Of the total 15 members (five-permanent and 10 non-permanent) in the Security Council, 14 supported the ban on the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, while China opposed it stating that “there are still different views on India’s application” to have Azhar recognised as a ‘globally designated terrorist.’ A crude lie, China resorts to it to make its Asian rival remain confined to never ending sub-continental fight. If experts are to be believed, China fears that once it withdraws its veto power on India’s application in the UN to declare Azhar as a globally designated terrorist, it will prove to be a major victory for New Delhi and may encourage India to further move ahead in its plan to get Pakistan declared as a terrorist state.
The same excuse China has repeatedly made with regard to India’s bid for the 48-member NSG. Even as the issue was broached during Modi and Jinping talks in Goa, China repeated the same tune it had played in Seoul in the course of the NSG plenary meet in June this year. In fact, a week before Indian and Chinese leaders’ meet on the sideline of the Goa BRICS summit, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong hinted that his country would go by consensus in deciding India’s entry to the elite non-proliferation club. “These rules are not to be decided by China alone…we are ready to continue consultations with India to build consensus and we also hope India can go to other members of the NSG as well,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Li had remarked. Reading between the lines, it is clear that Beijing will not support India’s bid for NSG membership no matter how hard it may try.
Nonetheless, for sake of its larger political, economic, diplomatic and strategic goals, India wants to maintain strategic restraint in its deal with Beijing. And this can be seen in New Delhi’s attempt to give a push to its defence cooperation with Beijing. After conducting their first-ever joint military exercise in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim along 4,057-km Line of Actual Control earlier this year, India and China are getting ready for their annual ‘Hand-in-Hand’ combat exercise at Aundh in Maharashtra from November 15 to 27. It will be a sort of confidence building exercise between the two armies. And it will take place in the backdrop of China’s continued support to Pakistan, a country which has emerged as a constant irritant in the way of peace and stability in the South Asian region. Given this, the Narendra Modi-led Government is under pressure from his party and its allies to play a hardball against China.
Some senior leaders of the BJP have already called for boycott of Chinese goods. This year in April, India banned the import of Chinese products, including electronic items, specific mobile phones, milk and milk products and some steel products. But still India is a major market for made in China products like mobile phones, computer hardware and peripherals, fertilizers, electronic component, chemical and drug intermediaries. Also a range of products like apparel, gift sets, glasses, sanitary ware, furniture and ceramics is imported from China. In 2015-16, the bilateral trade between the two nations stood at $70.73 billion, indicating categorically that India is a lucrative market for Chinese goods. Yet, India is in no mood to take economic route to pressurise China. Rather in its bid to strengthen BRICS and its members, India is ready to go extra miles and this fact was seen in categorical terms when it extended its help in the planned setting up of a BRICS Agriculture Research Institute, Railway Research Centre and BRICS Sports Council. India’s concept for BRICS bank was formalised when New Development Bank (NDB) with its headquarters in Shanghai was established in 2015.
Earlier in the run up to the summit, India conducted 115 events which included two BRICS parliamentary meetings (one of them was BRICS women parliamentary meeting), three track-two meets, fifteen ministerial level meetings, and 27 workshops and 56 senior officials, experts’ level meetings. First ever BRICS trade fair, film festival and youth football match were also part of India conducted events. At the BRICS NSA meet, top security officers of the five countries also decided to set up three working groups each for counter terrorism, energy security and cyber security.
Since BRICS Summit is being held in the backdrop of India-Pakistan tension, a multi layer security arrangement was made to thwart Pakistan-based Jehadi forces or terrorists’ design to foment trouble in Goa during the summit. To ward off any terrorist like activity, no fly zone over Goan airspace has been declared, while movement of boats and ships has been already put under surveillance from Kutch in Gujarat to sea shore areas of Maharashtra and Goa. Going by MEA officials’ claim, more than a thousand delegates from BRICS and BIMSTEC countries are to participate in the summit and its outreach in Goa which is billed to prove to be the best of summits ever held across the five countries in terms of arrangement and facilities.