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BRICS & BIMSTEC summits: What it means for India’s counter-terrorism diplomacy

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brics-goa-grouppixIndian diplomacy experienced an inflection point following the terrorist attack on September 18, 2016, at the Army encampment at Uri. Determined to raise costs for Pakistan to counter its strategy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts, the Indian government mounted an international campaign to paint Pakistan as a state-sponsor of global terrorism and to ‘isolate’ the country in the international community. Quite clearly, the objective has been to pressurise the leadership to alter the state’s behaviour by tapping into the growing global anxiety, including in Pakistan’s immediate and regional neighbourhood, about an ever increasing frequency of terrorist incidents, many of which have been linked to people of Pakistani origin or those radicalised there.

The Pakistani leadership’s attempts to ‘internationalise’ the Kashmir issue gave India the opportunity to mount this campaign with vigour. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj detailed Pakistani terrorist activities at length at the UNGA and Indian diplomats, going beyond their usual limited responses on such occasions, used colourful and evocative language to describe Pakistan as the source of international terrorism.

Taking advantage of deepening bitterness towards Pakistan in both Afghanistan and Bangladesh, India was able to generate a strong sentiment amongst the other member states to have the SAARC summit, scheduled for 9-10 November in Islamabad, postponed indefinitely; this was the first time ever that cross-border terrorism became the key reason for the summit to be postponed at the collective request of four members.

Against the backdrop of Indian Army’s surgical strikes across LOC on September 29, the government generated public debate about its intentions of reviewing the MFN status to Pakistan and the functioning of the Indus Water Treaty. The largely favourable international reaction to the surgical strikes and the postponement of the SAARC summit rattled the Pakistan leadership; it was deeply embarrassed by a news story in the Pakistani newspaper, ‘The Dawn’ (7 October), which described deep division between the political leadership and the Army on account of concerns about the country’s growing isolation due to the latter’s support to terrorist groups in Pakistan. Indian leaders and diplomats have raised Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in all their bilateral and multilateral interactions to make it defensive about its worsening international image notwithstanding the realpolitik of international relations. The same diplomatic pitch was in evidence at the G20 Summit, the ASEAN summit, the NAM summit and elsewhere.

BRICS summit: Focus on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism

brics-goa-groupIndia made Pakistan’s state-sponsorship of terrorism, without naming it, a key element of its diplomatic agenda for the 8th BRICS summit hosted by it in Goa on October 15-16; the event also coincided with India-Russia and India-Brazil summit meetings. To deny Pakistan the chokehold on regional integration as well as to further ‘isolate’ it in the region, a BRICS’ outreach with the BIMSTEC at the summit level was organised.

In all his interactions, Prime Minister Modi made a clear linkage between terrorism and economic prosperity, underlining Pakistan’s official complicity which casts a dark shadow on countries as well as on multilateral efforts to promote socio-economic progress.

putin1In his press statement, at the end of the annual India-Russia summit between PM Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said Russia’s “clear stand on the need to combat terrorism mirrors our own. We deeply appreciate Russia’s understanding and support of our actions to fight cross-border terrorism that threatens our entire region.”

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, speaking to the media regarding the first ever Russia-Pakistan military exercises, stated that India was satisfied with the Russian assurance that it will not undertake any step that is detrimental to its security interests.

china-modi-xi-goaGiven China’s proximity to Pakistan, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry quoted Prime Minister Modi telling President Xi that “we cannot afford to have differences” on terrorism and suggesting, in indirect reference to Masood Azhar, that both sides “must increase their coordination on the UN Security Council 1267 committee (on terror sanctions) and look for common ground.” Indian media quoted unnamed sources as saying that the Indian position was put across in a straightforward manner and that there was a need to minimise “irritants” between the two sides.

Whilst unnamed official sources were quoted as saying that Prime Minister raised the Azhar designation demand with South African President Zuma, the official spokesperson quoted him as thanking the South African government’s statement about the Uri attack as a mark of solidarity with India. At the India-Brazil summit talks, the official spokesperson quoted Prime Minister Modi as thanking Brazil for supporting India’s actions against terrorism.

Prime Minister’s remarks on terrorism, at the concluding session of BRICS summit, were aimed at Pakistan when he declared that combating terrorism, “including cross-border terrorism and its supporters”, will be a key BRICS priority.

The Goa Declaration, issued by the summit leaders, contains the key elements of India’s counterterrorism narrative but is less direct on the issue of isolation. It does “strongly condemn the recent several attacks, against some BRICS countries, including that in India.” It commits to strengthening cooperation in combating international terrorism both at the bilateral and at international fora and calls for a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, including violent extremism, radicalisation, recruitment, movement of terrorists including foreign terrorist fighters, blocking sources of financing terrorism, dismantling terrorist bases and countering misuse of social media.

The leaders recalled “the responsibility of all states to prevent terrorist actions from their territories.” Referring to the recent meeting of BRICS High Representatives on National Security, the Declaration welcomed the setting up of the Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism to promote dialogue and understanding “on issues of counterterrorism as well as coordinate efforts to address the scourge of terrorism.”

BIMSTEC Advantage

bimstec-goaThe BIMSTEC Outcome Document is even more satisfactory in terms of India’s counter-terrorism diplomacy. Reaffirming determination for concrete measures for cooperation and coordination amongst the various security agencies, it stated that the fight against terrorism involves not just disruption and elimination of terrorists and their organisations and networks but “should also identify, hold accountable and take strong measures against states who encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues.” It “condemn (ed) in the strongest terms the recent barbaric terror attacks in the region.” It outlined specific steps to strengthen the legal framework to strengthen cooperation against international terrorism, transnational organised crime and drug trafficking. This robust language reflected the strong sentiments against terrorism, including state-sponsored, which was expressed by the leaders and representatives of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand in their summit interventions.

The Way Ahead

What do these endeavours add up to as far as India’s post-Uri strategy is concerned? Whatever be the individual calculations of different countries, the fairly strong language of BRICS Declaration and the even more explicit ‘isolationist’ text of the BIMSTEC Document, signed by countries in the region, represents their official commitment and provides an opening for India to strengthen the envisaged anti-terrorism mechanisms and processes.

Even though China has tried to distance itself from the aggressive Indian line, its commitment to pursue cooperation within the framework of the BRICS Declaration signifies its stakes in this organization’s future; Xinhua news agency, covering the Declaration document, referred to the “bloc” condemning the “recent attacks against some BRICS countries” but omitted its specific reference to India.

Is Pakistan listening?

Aiming to impose costs on Pakistan for pursuing its ‘low cost’ strategy, Indian diplomacy has widened the diplomatic and military space, in its bilateral relations with Pakistan, to ratchet up the pressure especially as focused military action to Pakistani terrorist provocations has not been ruled out. Against the backdrop of incandescent international anger against terrorism, Pakistan cannot misread the signals originating from Goa.

(Yogendra Kumar is the author of Diplomatic Dimension of Maritime Challenges for India in the 21st Century. A former diplomat, he had served as Ambassador of India to the Philippines and held important postings in key capitals. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author)


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