Brics’ focus on Pak: An opportunity lost?

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The agenda India should have set for Goa was a discussion of world problems, particularly those impacting Brics members, in the framework of a changing world, with one session on terrorism...
There is irony in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concentration on Pakistani terrorism at the Goa Brics summit because the more he dwelt on the theme, the more distant became India’s aspiration for a world role, struggling as it seemed to be with a major neighbourhood problem. And the pickings were slim in the form of an anodyne declaration. Of course, everyone is against terrorism.
Instead of taking advantage of a summit, that included both Russia and China, New Delhi seemed to be hosting a South Asian gathering, with a few outsiders, laudable as the goal of asking the Bangladeshi and Myanmar leaders was. Thereby, India restricted the discussion of major world issues.
The one benefit of the conference was the bilateral talks between President Vladimir Putin and Mr Modi to undertake an essential recalibration of relations in a changing world, sharply brought home to New Delhi by Moscow conducting the first-ever joint troop exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. As India has grown closer to the United States for good reasons, Moscow claims the right to expand its relationship with other countries in its own perceived interests.
President Xi Jinping of China was expectedly inflexible on issues of immediate concern to New Delhi, including membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the “technical hold” on declaring a Pakistan-based terror outfit chief as a terrorist by the United Nations and several other matters. And in a retort to “terrorist Pakistan”, the Chinese government went to the extent of issuing a statement after the summit praising Pakistan’s efforts in coping with terrorism.
Plainly, Mr Modi got his sums wrong. This is all the more surprising due to his deft moves in foreign policy after the Uri attack from across the border in attracting worldwide sympathy and support, the deftness of the “surgical strikes”, causing a minor crisis in the Pakistani establishment and taking Pakistani isolation in the world to its lowest level.
The ideal agenda India should have set for Goa was a wider discussion of world problems, particularly those impacting Brics members, in the framework of a changing world, with one session devoted to terrorism. It is an opportunity lost in an era where geopolitical factors are changing rapidly, and US-Russian relations are at their lowest level in 30 years.
One hopes Mr Modi had an opportunity in his private meetings with President Putin to gather the new springboard for his assertive policy in Syria and elsewhere. This would be of greater import than a discussion on terrorism. Judging by the long relationship with India, Mr Putin should have been forthcoming with an explanation.
Where do we go from here? First, India has to frame a longer-term strategy. There is no early end to our troubled relationship with Pakistan. China’s footprint on Pakistan and other South Asian countries will grow. It is specially important in the case of Pakistan as the latter is now at the heart of China’s new Silk Road project, that is planned as a major outlet for Chinese goods and knitting Central Asian countries in the Chinese web. Besides, Beijing has long used Islamabad as a spoiler for Indian ambitions.
India has leverages against China if they are used subtly. One had expected from Mr Modi’s track record that he undertook the subtleties of diplomacy, particularly those on the subcontinent. He rightly won plaudits for how he played the Uri theme. Was he beguiled by the praise to overdo terrorism for an international audience?
Mr Modi began with Pakistan on the right note by inviting the Pakistan PM to his swearing-in ceremony and later dramatically to drop in at his Lahore home to greet him at a family wedding. The results were less than paltry due to Pakistan’s power structure, with the Army wielding the big stick, specially on ties with India and nuclear matters.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif therefore doesn’t count in the ultimate analysis. As recent secret talks between the civil establishment and the Army establishment revealed, the Army won hands down. What is required of New Delhi in these circumstances is subtlety in making moves against Islamabad, just the kind of moves he made before the Brics conference.
We have had a long list of distinguished foreign ministers and their advisers who fought valiantly for India’s cause in the United Nations’ halls. Then the world and the UN simply got tired of a complicated problem left over by the history of Partition. Sporadic efforts at direct talks, including at the Track 2 level, failed to lead to a solution. In fact, Pakistan’s initiation of wars to settle the issue failed each time.
What is exciting for Pakistan no end is the months’ long unrest in the Kashmir Valley and its increased insertion of terrorists to strike at Army camps and other centres of state authority. After the “surgical strikes” that Pakistan still denies, another pattern emerged, that of violating the ceasefire line across a wide area of the border. It is still guesswork to put a figure on the number of terrorists successfully pushed across the border during the height of the Valley’s unrest.
One wishes some of the effort expended on safeguarding the border were directed at the political problem in the Valley. The peculiar coalition governing the state, of the BJP and People’s Democratic Party under the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter Mehbooba, has failed to light any sparks. The state government, it seems, is waiting on events.
Given the geopolitical picture, China will continue to back Pakistan to the hilt and miss no opportunity to embarrass India. The United States can be expected to support New Delhi within the limits of its framework, which essentially condemns Pakistan after terror attacks and asks it to bring terrorists on its soil to heel, but it will not directly get involved on the issue.
The United States finally did come out with a robust statement on Uri, as did Russia. Let India treat these as a bonus.

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