Even by the usual standards it was a l-o-n-g communique consisting of 109 paragraphs, each marked not by a number but by a bullet point. I can imagine what would have happened when the deputies gathered to draft the communique. I am reminded of how a camel was created: the Creator appointed a committee to design a horse and when the Creator breathed life into the design, a camel was born!
Communiques are long in the making but have a short life. A communique is only good up to the time of the next communique. The principals (presidents and prime ministers) spend little time on the communique. It is a rare occasion when one country/leader will invest a lot of time, diplomatic effort and personal goodwill in persuading other countries/leaders to highlight a certain matter in the communique. The Goa summit of BRICS countries promised to be one such rare occasion.
India’s main concern
In the days preceding the summit, India was preoccupied with one subject: Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Ever since the cross-LoC action on September 29, 2016, the government (especially the defence minister) and the BJP were determined to extract as much political advantage as possible from an Army operation that was accurately described by the foreign secretary as “target-specific, limited-calibre, counter terrorist operation”. They did extract mileage in India and hoped to do the same when India was in a gathering that represented 43% of the world’s population.
The Prime Minister churned out some devastating words and phrases. He said Pakistan “embraces and radiates the darkness of terrorism”. He also said terrorism had become Pakistan’s “favourite child”. In another speech, he said Pakistan is the “mothership of terrorism”.
Expectations from the summit were therefore high. We believed that Pakistan will be isolated, named and shamed, and Pakistan will be banished to join North Korea as an outlaw. We believed that the Jaish-e-Mohammad will be named, deservedly, after the Uri terror attack and the Laskhar-e-Toiba will be named because it was the perpetrator of the Mumbai terror attack (2008).
When the BRICS communique was released, we scoured the paragraphs to find the reference to Pakistan. There was none. We blinked, read the communique again, but there was no reference. We looked for a reference to the Uri attack and words of sympathy for India. Again, no. All that we found, buried in paragraph 57, were the following words:
“We strongly condemn the recent several attacks, against some BRICS countries, including that in India.”
What was the meaning of the word ‘that’? Was it a grudging reference to the Uri attack? No one has bothered to explain to the people of India the non-reference to Uri when the summit took place in India within a month of the Uri attack, that left 19 soldiers dead.
There was more. Two paragraphs below there was a message to the world, India included:
“All counter terrorism measures should uphold international law and respect human rights.”
Counter-terrorism measures are taken by countries that are the victims of terrorist attacks. India’s recent cross-LoC action was one such measure. Did the communique imply that India had violated international law? Did it imply that India did not respect human rights?
While there was no reference to the Uri attack and no reference to Pakistan or the JeM or the LeT, the communique named a notorious terror group: the Islamist State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Only one other terrorist group, the Jabhat al-Nusra (in Syria), was named. The references were not accidental. Both Russia and China feel threatened by ISIL (also known as ISIS). Russia has a special interest in Syria. Hence the naming of ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra. For the same reasons, Russia and China need the support of Pakistan.
Last month, Russia concluded a military exercise with Pakistan. At the United Nations, China blocked India’s efforts to name Masood Azhar as a terrorist and put curbs on his activities. After the BRICS Summit, China went a step further and, in the unkindest cut of all, China’s spokesperson said, “Everyone knows that India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. Pakistan has made huge efforts and great sacrifices in fighting terrorism. I think that the international community should respect this.”
That is the real world. The real world fears an escalation of a conflict between two countries that have nuclear weapons and, therefore, is unwilling to pour oil on the fire. Besides, each country has its self-interest to protect. For Russia, it is the situation in Afghanistan and the ISIS’s threat to its territory via Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyztan. For China, it is its investments in Pakistan, the Road and Belt initiative and access to Gwadar port.
That is not to suggest that India is friendless in the world. It is only to emphasise that, despite the government’s efforts, Pakistan is also not friendless in the world. After the Uri attack, the government did the right thing in allowing the Army to take cross-LoC action. The Army also did the right thing in making a measured statement through the DGMO. Message conveyed, the line should have been drawn there. It was not, and expectations of support were built high. Hence the feeling among the people of India of being let down by our BRICS partners.
At least now the government should tacitly acknowledge the wisdom of ‘strategic restraint’. It is time to end the rhetoric and the celebrations and go back to deterrence, diplomacy, engagement and talks.
Website: pchidambaram.in @Pchidambaram_IN