In keeping with the message the Government of India has been pushing even before the Uri attack, the Prime Minister’s stream of tough words aimed at isolating Pakistan for its support to terror groups that act against India, made headlines through the two day BRICS and BIMSTEC meetings that took place in Goa on October 15 and 16. Diplomats have been quick to point the finger of blame for the predominant focus on terrorism at journalists – both from print and television. A focus that only served to highlight India’s failure to include a mention of Pakistan or terms like ‘safe havens’ and ‘cross-border terrorism’ in the final Goa Declaration.
But that finger pointing is disingenuous. As leaders met in a restricted session on the morning of October 16 in Goa, the first message from the government made public was a tweet by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup, quoting PM Modi as saying “the mother-ship of terrorism is in India’s neighbourhood”. Hard-hitting language that set the tone for what was to come in the Prime Minister’s several statements through the day was a clear indication that terrorism was higher up in priority than any other agenda. PM Modi’s statements were peppered with references to state-sponsored terrorism and the threat emanating from India’s immediate neighbour. His closing statement after the BRICS plenary was particularly emphatic. PM Modi said all leaders had agreed that states that shelter terror groups are equally to blame.
Soon after the BRICS plenary concluded, at the outreach meeting between BRICS leaders and those of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand who form BIMSTEC – The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – the Prime Minister repeated himself, yet again. He began his address to a combined gathering of BRICS and BIMSTEC leaders by saying, “With 1.5 billion people and a combined GDP of 2.5 trillion US dollars, the countries of BIMSTEC have shared aspirations for growth, development, commerce, and technology.” Just as the topic of conversation seemed to change, PM Modi quickly brought it back to Pakistan and terrorism. He told the ten leaders gathered there that all nation states in the South Asian region, barring one, are motivated by the need for peace, development and economic prosperity. Calling terrorism its favourite child, he said, “Unfortunately, this country in India’s neighbourhood embraces and radiates the darkness of terrorism.” For the sixth time on Sunday, PM Modi told world leaders gathered in Goa that state-sponsored terrorism needs decisive action and that it is “imperative for BRICS and BIMSTEC to create a comprehensive response to secure our societies” against terrorism.
It is important to note that apart from India, while the threat of terror is a global one, a threat from Pakistan is specific only to India. The Chinese made their position clear and said root causes of terror must be addressed, and that “political solutions must be found to regional hotspots”. As Secretary Amar Sinha said – when asked on the absence of specific references to India’s terrorism concerns in the text of the Goa Declaration – no consensus could be arrived on naming Pakistan-based terror groups, and other countries in BRICS did not have the same threat levels of terrorism from Pakistan as India did.
BRIC – a group of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China was set up in 2006 (South Africa joined in 2010) and committed in 2006 to primary goals of boosting economic development and trade, both within individual nations and with each other, and become a driving force globally. Together the five countries are home to two-thirds of the world’s population and massive natural resources – both of which were considered reasons for an investment banker in Goldman Sachs to initially come up with the acronym BRIC – joined later by South Africa – and set up a special unit within the bank to look only at these countries.
In past summits, right from the very first one that took place in Ekaterinburg, Russia in 2009, BRICS countries focused on joint priorities and reached common agreements on issues ranging from World Bank reform to setting up of Development Bank and a BRICS contingent reserve with a combined value of 200 billion dollars to common agendas in healthcare, education and exploration of natural resources. And, as Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar told reporters, BRICS was envisaged as a group of nations united in their approach on development issues, the group has never shied away from political issues”. These include arriving at a common position on the crises in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and on Iran’s nuclear programme in past summits. The 109-page Goa Declaration released at the end of this summit too incorporates many of these common goals in detail.
For Prime Minister Modi to have singularly focused on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in over five statements, interventions and speeches in the course of the 2-day diplomatic confabulation of BRICS and BIMSTEC member states, is to have taken away from what nations do agree on, and undermine several of India’s own foreign policy objectives of becoming an economic powerhouse both regionally and globally, improving connectivity and contact with Asian countries, and finding common cause on issues of global concern with other major world players.