Modi did not fail India at BRICS, though ties with Russia are worrying

PM's description of cross-border terrorism emanating from India’s neighbouring country made his intent to isolate Pakistan clear.

 |  6-minute read |   19-10-2016
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If we go by the comments of the Congress party on the just-concluded BRICS summit, and some of the analysis carried out in print and electronic media, including the 147-character "wisdom" cluttering the ether, Prime Minister Narendra Modi "failed" to get members to deliver "the knockout blow on Pakistan" as one scribe put it.

Such comments are not unexpected. These spin merchants are always spewing anti-Modi rhetoric, whether relevant or not, on any issue. 

Remember, they were demanding proof after Indian Army announced carrying out the surgical strikes along the LoC? It only exposes the grand old party's continuing leadership vacuum.

In the midst of the invasion of these "hidden persuaders" (with apologies to Vance Packard, who wrote the classic on manipulative advertising with the same title in 1957), we seem to have forgotten that multilateral summits are serious diplomatic exercises to evolve an acceptable minimum to further the objectives of participating nations.

Of course, PM Modi had kindled a lot of expectations before the summit to persuade the member-nations to isolate Pakistan as part of India’s strategy to fight cross-border terrorism. He had also been trying to muster international support for his strategy in all the international conclaves he participated after Uri and Pathankot attacks.

The BRICS members come from four continents. At this point in time, their collective strength comes from their growing technological and economic prowess, with their total estimated GDP (2015) at $34.415 trillion, and their influence, with more than nearly half the world’s population estimated at 3.6 billion people and more than nearly one-third of global land mass.

Their perspectives are conditioned not only by their cultural, historical and developmental experiences, but also their strengths in the global geo-strategic environment.  

Despite their differing world views, BRICS members have also come together to further their common aspirations to be recognised as ​globally emerging economic entities with matching strategic clout.

The joint statements are not spun out of thin air but after close interaction and discussion between the representatives of member countries based on a collective agenda finalised well before the summit. The statements are carefully drafted so it cannot be misconstrued by others.

Evolving acceptable semantics couched in "diplomatese" is an exercise best left to diplomats, with the leaders providing only key operative elements. 

bricsbdpti_101916035833.jpg Russia, China and India had different strokes for different folks including their domestic audience. (Photo: PTI)

Diplomats by training are capable of saying things devoid of meaning, and at times, they're ​intentionally vague and cautious. 

Official writings are also couched in carefully drafted sentences to withstand political and legal scrutiny, both at home and abroad. Sometimes, bloopers do occur. India’s faux pas in the joint statement after Sharm el-Sheikh meeting between Indian and Pakistan prime ministers in November 2009 is one such example. 

India after taking over the chairmanship of BRICS from February 2016 has tried to infuse a lot energy in the group. 

A lot of events and meetings covering cultural, trade and commerce and issues of governance already took place before the summit to add more form and content to the grouping. The first meeting of the BRICS Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism was held on September 14, 2016 in New Delhi with the participation of member countries’ national security representatives. 

This was apparently part of PM Modi’s international agenda to promote international cooperation to fight the growing menace of cross-border terrorism the world over.

The theme of the 8th BRICS Summit held at Goa, "Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions" (giving full play to Prime Minister Modi’s penchant for mnemonics) clarifies its objective. Apart from international terrorism, the agenda included financial, development, infrastructure and environmental issues.

The members air their views freely during the bilateral meetings of leaders to provide a better understanding of their perspective during the plenary session. In conformity with global practice on such conferences, only the nuanced wording of the statement indicates the members’ accepted takeaways while omissions give an inkling of their differences. 

If we go by this yardstick, the key players Russia, China and India had different strokes for different folks including their domestic audience.

PM Modi’s press statement at the conclusion of the summit on October 16 covers​ a​ gamut of issues covered in the three sessions. These include exchange of views on important global issues, including terrorism, global economic scenario and the need to reform global governance architecture. 

PM Modi’s speeches at the summit strongly stressed on terrorism as the biggest threat to development and governance. Though he did not name Pakistan, his description of cross-border terrorism emanating from India’s neighbouring country made his intent to press for isolating Pakistan clear. 

Similarly, China had made clear its position as a strong ally of Pakistan well in advance when it deferred India’s application for NSG membership on "technical grounds". It also continues to block the UN Security Council naming Masood Azhar as a terrorist, though he leads the Jaish e-Mohammad (JeM), an organisation proscribed by the UN.

Though the Goa declaration specifically mentioned "the recent several attacks, against some BRICS countries, including that in India" and strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, Pakistan was not specifically named. This fell short of public expectations fanned by PM Modi’s high-decibel speeches before the summit.

India probably expected China to dilute any reference to Pakistan. But it was disappointing to note that its objection prevailed against, including any reference to, both Lashkar-e-Taiba and JeM (both figuring on the UN list of global terrorist organisations), though Islamic State and al-Qaeda found a place.

It should be of some consolation to India that China agreed to include two operative sentences: "There can be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism, whether based upon ideological, religious, political, racial, ethnic or any other reasons" and "we also agreed that those who nurture, shelter, support and sponsor such forces of violence and terror are as much a threat to us as the terrorists themselves."

In the Indian context, they would point to Pakistan.

Similarly, PM Modi’s appeal to all nations to adopt a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, including recruitment and movement of terrorists and blocking sources of terrorists finance and countering misuse of internet and social media, has also found a place in the Goa declaration. This resonates with his relentless efforts to promote a holistic international effort to counter terrorism.

But India’s evergreen ally, Russia, soft pedalling Indian approach on state-sponsored terrorism, comes as a disappointment. 

Only a day before Russian president Vladimir Putin had assured PM Modi that Russia would do nothing to hurt India’s interests and a signed a slew of agreements to supply state-of-the-art armaments. Did Chinese influence prevail over Russia to change its mind? Or is it the lure of selling arms to Pakistan? Could it be a subtle warning to India to temper its new-found bonhomie with the US?

Probably it is a mix of all these; but they certainly indicate India-Russia relations should not be taken for granted and need urgent refurbishing, if not repair.

Also read: Truth is, Narendra Modi failed at BRICS, embarrassed India

Watch: PM Narendra Modi meets with Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi


Colonel R Hariharan Colonel R Hariharan @colhari2

The writer is a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia with rich experience in terrorism and insurgency operations.

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