Summits are not usually thrillers that produce surprise endings. They are more like romantic tales with happily-ever-after endings.
That’s because diplomats, who do most of the backroom grind at summits and iron out all differences — officially and unofficially — leak most details to the media even before the red carpets are rolled out. They tell you the story, or most of it, and then the Presidents and Prime Ministers arrive to give you the headlines.
Even in the case of Brics 2016 in Goa, the script was known before the leaders disembarked their special aircraft. We knew that India would sign arms deals with Russia, and India would talk tough on terrorism.
But this summit was different on two counts. For one thing, the script was almost entirely written by India. Though the content was known, its style and delivery did produce surprise.
At the end of it, Pakistan has probably lost an ally in Russia, has to speed up its shopping for fighter jets which it badly needs and has had the pain of being branded as a 'mothership of terror'. All these put together constitute another severe jolt to Pakistan, the biggest since India’s 29 September surgical strikes, from which it has hardly recovered.
Whether such strikes happened in the past nor not, by publicising them, the Narendra Modi government threw Pakistan into unprecedented confusion and even an internal crisis. And Brics 20016 has only rubbed salt into Pakistan’s surgical wounds
More than the talk about terror, it was the arms deals that Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed — worth a whopping US $24 billion — on the sidelines of the summit that hijacked the agenda. For the Indians, it was a case of killing many birds with one stone.
The most important of these deals was India’s purchase of five S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia which alone amount to US $6 billion (nearly Rs 40,000 crore).
Of course, Russia is also selling six of these systems to China which are likely to be delivered in 2018. By positioning a Russian-made S-400 at the right place on the boundary with India, China can have New Delhi in its range. This means that in case of an India-China war, the two countries will end up destroying each other’s aircraft using the same Russian-made weapon systems. Besides, Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the countries in queue to buy the S-400s.
What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that India too will have them, probably by 2020, though Russia’s promises on delivery schedules should always be taken with a pinch of salt. And when these systems arrive, India can deploy them to spot and destroy Pakistani aircraft long before they enter Indian airspace.
More importantly, India hopes that Pakistan will no longer have Russia as a friend and ally. After India edged closer to the US, Russia lifted an embargo to sell armaments to Pakistan in 2014 and agreed to sell four Mi-35 attack-cum-transport helicopters to Pakistan.
The four-helicopter deal, by no means a threat to India, pales into insignificance compared with the omnibus agreements that Russia has signed in Goa.
Sergey Chemezov, the CEO of Russia’s armament maker ROSTEC Corp, who had proudly announced the lifting of his country’s embargo on Pakistan two years ago, waxed eloquent in Goa on Russia’s “long-standing relationship” with India. Considered to be the Russian government’s most important arms wheeler-dealer, Chemezov ruled out supplying any fighter jets to Pakistan “for the present”.
Russia was earlier ready to sell its fifth-generation Su-35 planes to Pakistan. Times are changing, and changing fast. Thanks to Modi and Putin, Pakistan has to resume its shopping for fighter jets once again.
The Goa deals have less to do with an Indian desire to resume romance with an estranged, old friend or with the rearrangement of post-Cold War friendships. They are driven by cold, brutal geopolitical realities of the sub-continent and compulsions of the fiercely competitive arms market.
So what? India can ask. All that matters to India for now is that Pakistan is once again a country practically with one friend — China.
Putin is happy: Russian is once again milking enough money from India.
Modi is happy: India gets the most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems; it takes care a part of its long-overdue plan to modernise its military; and it distances Russia from Pakistan, pushing the country further into isolation.
The Russia card that India played was clearly not an overnight brainwave. It was a long thought-out one. Apparently it included Modi bringing PS Raghavan, the Russian-speaking former Indian ambassador in Moscow, into his policy-making team well in time.
Finally came the Goa Declaration, and perhaps it was where India encountered a bit of failure. Media reports say that the Modi team failed to get a consensus on including “cross-border terrorism” in the declaration. But India is content with paragraph 59 of the declaration which came close it with the mention of “dismantling terrorist bases”.
As for China, nothing was expected and nothing was gained or lost. But characteristically, China may soon express its frustration with India through an editorial in one of its mouthpieces such as People’s Daily or Global Times. Or an academic in Xinjiang province or a bureaucrat in Shanghai may drop a pearl of wisdom against India. That’s China’s style.
But India needn’t worry. It has, once again, sent the right message to Pakistan. And Modi can be pardoned if he congratulates himself on what he has pulled off. This is Indian diplomacy at its best.
The author tweets @sprasadindia.