Op-ed: GOA and BRICS Faultlines

(L-R) Brazil's President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma pose for a group picture during BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Benaulim, in the western state of Goa, India, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

By Waqar K. Kauravi

Since the assumption of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s government (BJP) in New Delhi in 2014, India under the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist turned Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has experimented every tactic to cow down the government’s prime adversary Pakistan.

Unlike in the past, India’s nefarious pursuit has witnessed an aggressive posture vis-à-vis Pakistan. Under the tenure of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, India seems to have gambled country’s “non-alignment” status in favor of what its pundits have decided to misleadingly market as “multi-alignment”.

Doval is a former Indian intelligence and law enforcement officer, who became the National Security Adviser to Modi, since May 2014.

M.K. Bhadrakumar, an Indian intellectual, once questioned whether BRICS (The association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)  lost its way on Goa’s sandy beaches, writing: ‘This year has been catastrophic for India’s multilateral diplomacy. The Saarc summit, which was originally scheduled for November in Islamabad, has got scuttled, thanks to India’s boycott.’

Bhadrakumar further offered Modi’s government an advice in the form of a simple question: How could India arrogate the prerogative to dictate its terms of engagement with Pakistan when neither Russia nor China has imposed pre-conditions on their BRICS partners? However his advice fell flat on a jingoistic Modi, who went ahead with the chosen strategy of blasting Pakistan.

The Doval-Modi cabal’s thirst to isolate Pakistan did not stop after scuttling the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Instead, Goa’s BRICS Summit was used as a platform to vent Doval and Modi’s frustrations, and subsequently keeping the summit a hostage for Modi’s shenanigans and tirades against Pakistan.

While China embarrassed Modi by refusing to allow the BRICS forum to be used as an arena to settle bilateral scores against a non-member (Pakistan), other dignitaries advised India to avoid overplaying Pakistan as the elephant in the room. Thus the BRICS summit in Goa, not only left a bad taste in the mouth of guests but also exposed the existing and perceived fault lines in this new Colossus.

As pointed out by Bhadrakumar, multilateral processes such as BRICS are highly selective in choosing their participants and if the participants do not enjoy good vibes amongst themselves, the stink percolates all over the tent and would asphyxiate constructive and productive interaction.

Subhash Kapila, through the think tank SAAG (South Asia Analysis Group), vented his anger on Putin on September 26, writing that Russia’s promiscuous relationship with Pakistan, while at the same time professing enduring commitment to its long-standing ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ with India, should no longer fool India.

He added that contextually, Russian troops landing in Pakistan for joint exercises with Pakistan Army is an unfriendly act against India…That the Russian strategic and political pivot to the China-Pakistan Axis is a strategic pivot to India’s two implacable enemies, namely China and Pakistan, ‘doubly reinforces’ Indian public perceptions that Russia has indulged in a well-calibrated unfriendly act against India and the Indian people.

So, is BRICS sliding down the slippery slopes because of the fault-lines, or it is too premature to comment?

I had mentioned the factors impacting BRICS in a published article titled Slippery BRICS.

And there are other factors dampening the global economic outlook.

The glut in oil has come at a time when tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are mounting. The destabilized Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has created a snowballing refugee crises that the western world is incapable of handling.

Class wars between the haves and the have-nots are being fueled by an information explosion at a time when the state’s monopoly over information and violence is being compromised and individuals, warlords, terrorists, militias and civil-society flag bearers create their own Ramadi, Utøya, Aleppo, Naxal, Kashmir and Oregon occupation.

The Guardian in its March 27 issue, carried an article by Simon Tisdall titled ‘Has the BRICS Bubble Burst,’ which also makes a good read on the subject.

Tisdall highlighted the differences in the organization about who is in charge, how best to achieve U.N. Security Council reform and, for example, territorial disputes between India  and China. Quoting George Magnus from Prospect magazine, Tisdall highlighted the rampant corruption in Indian Government, stating that “India is certainly no paragon of virtue when it comes to corruption, nor is its economic infrastructure efficient.”

Unfortunately, two incidents around the Goa Summit highlighted the difference between ‘Shining India’ and the real India; and exposed India’s infrastructure deficiencies and corruption, with a circulating rumor of a bridge collapsing, causing a stampede that killed dozens in Varnasi and a fire at Bhubaneswar’s SUM Hospital, which killed and injured scores of patients.

In the realpolitik front, things have been shaping differently in Asia.

This summer India and Japan displayed their U.S.-sponsored maritime prowess, Malabar, as boasted by NDTV on June 18: India, Japan and the U.S. began their marine war games, Malabar Exercise, near Okinawa Island – about 400 kilometers from the contested Senkaku Islands – hunting for Chinese submarines, ships, recreating a scenario of countering a hostile Chinese People’s Liberation Army (Navy).

Holding of such an exercise a stone’s throw away from the sensitive South China Sea was designed to convey a very strong message to China, that the new coalition of Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond envisaged by Shinzo Abe is becoming a reality.

Malabar was timed to coincide with Indian PM Modi’s visit to Washington. Some part of the Indian media openly named China as the future enemy of the democratic world. Australia was the only country physically not participating in this exercise (Shinzo Abe’s Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond has four corners: US, Japan, India and Australia).

As highlighted in one of my published articles, China and Russia are being strategically suffocated on three major fronts. In the Asia Pacific region, the U.S.’s ‘Asia pivot’ is coming of age.

The West is propagating the doomsday scenario of an assertive China bullying the South China Sea periphery through military might. Whereas the active members of the Asian pivot like India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. will showcase the kinetic arm of this strategy, as the neutral and passive states lying in the region will be persuaded to provide diplomatic, informational and logistic support.

This could have far reaching consequences for both China and Russia. On the BRICS front, the active involvement of India against China and Russia has put a question mark on the future of this politico-economic alliance, and BRICS may have to think of shedding the ‘I’ as India takes a clear side against the spirit of this colossus.

With that, we ask: Is India becoming an albatross hanging around BRICS’s neck?

While India becomes the linchpin of the U.S. Asian pivot, it needs to resolve another headache with China. Some 4,000 km of un-demarcated border between India and China poses a serious question to their ability to keep smiling in the forums such as BRICS.

China has always insisted that India should come onto the drawing board for settling the issue, India has been reluctant to follow suit because she finds it difficult to look straight into the eyes of the Chinese Dragon.

The author is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad and can be reached at waqarkauravi@gmail.com

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