Terrorism was apparently the focus of the just-concluded Brics Summit in Goa.
And to an extent, it was.
After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked tough on the awful phenomenon in all his speeches over the course of the weekend, going so far as to refer to Pakistan as 'the mothership of terrorism'. It's almost a certainty that he brought up terrorism, particularly the sort gift-wrapped and sent across the border from our considerate neighbours to the North West, over the course of all his bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Brics and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) summits.
TV news channels and news websites ran excerpts from the joint statement — known as the Goa Declaration — issued by the leaders of Brics countries, highlighting this part:
We strongly condemn the recent several attacks, against some Brics countries, including that in India. We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism, whether based upon ideological, religious, political, racial, ethnic or any other reasons. We agreed to strengthen cooperation in combating international terrorism both at the bilateral level and at international fora.
Other sections of the Goa Declaration went into great detail about specific aspects. The Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and 'other terrorist organisations designated by the UN Security Council' received a mention. So too did 'terrorist activities in Afghanistan', terrorism in Africa, chemical and biological forms of terror, 'foreign terrorist fighters', 'International Standards on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation' and so on.
It was a lot like a symposium on climate change, where everything under the sun is discussed and noted, except greenhouse gases. And no, it is not the intention of this piece to refer to terrorism emanating from Pakistan as a greenhouse gas.
The intention is, however, to point out that these pronouncements on terror are nothing new and do little to indicate that India has prevailed upon the group to examine — much less seek a crackdown on — the biggest source of terror attacks in India. The intention is also to point out that a failure to get Pakistan, whether in name or in the form of a reference to the Uri/Pathankot attacks, is actually something of a setback from India's point of view. The simple mention of "recent several attacks, against some Brics countries, including that in India (emphasis added)" is frankly insufficient.
Here's one question that will arise at this point: Modi more than made his views clear to all the countries at the Brics and Bimstec summits, so why does India need that to be part of a joint statement — which in itself, is not legally binding?
Let's address the second part first. A Brics joint statement is largely a set of goals that all five countries will strive to achieve. It is not legally binding. However, what it does project is a sense of unity and agreement on a an issue. It sends the world a message that all five of these countries — that together account for over half the world's population and more than a quarter of its GDP — stand together on a particular issue. By daintily stepping around a particular issue, the statement betrays the notion that not all members agree on a particular point, in this case, Pakistan's role in fomenting terror.
But, the statement spoke at great length about terrorism, you may well reiterate. And that is true. But none of these aspects of terrorism are contentious. No one disagrees that the Islamic State must be wiped out. No one disagrees that chemical and biological weapons in the hands of terrorists are a bad thing. No one disagrees that terrorism in Africa — perpetrated by the likes of Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and their ilk — must be stamped out. These are truisms.
It's instructive, at this point, to look at previous Brics declarations to see how little the grouping's view of terrorism has truly changed since the first summit.
Yekaterinburg (Russia), 2009
"We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reiterate that there can be no justification for any act of terrorism anywhere or for whatever reasons. We note that the draft Comprehensive Convention against International Terrorism is currently under the consideration of the UN General Assembly and call for its urgent adoption."
The Comprehensive Convention against International Terrorism (CCIT) has only really faced opposition from the US, Israel, a handful of Latin American countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation bloc. None of the Brics members are opposed to it and so, this part of the statement didn't really add all that much.
"We condemn terrorist acts in all forms and manifestations. We note that the fight against international terrorism must be undertaken with due respect to the UN Charter, existing international conventions and protocols, the UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions relating to international terrorism, and that the prevention of terrorist acts is as important as the repression of terrorism and its financing. In this context, we urge early conclusion of negotiations in the UN General Assembly of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and its adoption by all Member States.
Brazil and China express their sympathy and solidarity with the people and Governments of Russia and India which suffered from recent barbaric terrorist attacks. Terrorism cannot be justified by any reason."
A slightly more elaborate section on terrorism found its way into the second ever Bric (South Africa was yet to become a member) joint statement. However, aside from lip service that condemned terror attacks in Russia and India (presumably referring to the Germany Bakery blast in Pune), there was nothing new. The CCIT made a return.
"We reiterate our strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there can be no justification, whatsoever, for any acts of terrorism. We believe that the United Nations has a central role in coordinating the international action against terrorism within the framework of the UN Charter and in accordance with principles and norms of the international law. In this context, we urge early conclusion of negotiations in the UN General Assembly of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and its adoption by all Member States. We are determined to strengthen our cooperation in countering this global threat. We express our commitment to cooperate for strengthening international information security. We will pay special attention to combat cybercrime."
Information security and cybercrime made their debuts in the 2011 edition of the Brics Summit. Opinion on whether or not Russia and China are the right candidates to speak about 'combat(ing) cybercrime' will be reserved. But again, it was much of the same.
"We reiterate that there can be no justification, whatsoever, for any act of terrorism in any form or manifestation. We reaffirm our determination to strengthen cooperation in countering this menace and believe that the United Nations has a central role in coordinating international action against terrorism, within the framework of the UN Charter and in accordance with principles and norms of international law. We emphasise the need for an early finalisation of the draft of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the UN General Assembly and its adoption by all Member States to provide a comprehensive legal framework to address this global scourge."
Most notably, the language used in the Delhi Declaration was far more dramatic than the previous joint statements: 'Emphasise the need', 'countering this menace' and 'global scourge'. Great copy, no doubt, but what did it really do to push the agenda along?
"We reiterate our strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there can be no justification, whatsoever, for any acts of terrorism. We believe that the UN has a central role in coordinating international action against terrorism within the framework of the UN Charter and in accordance with principles and norms of international law. In this context, we support the implementation of the UN General Assembly Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and are determined to strengthen cooperation in countering this global threat. We also reiterate our call for concluding negotiations as soon as possible in the UN General Assembly on the Comprehensive Convention on International terrorism and its adoption by all Member States and agreed to work together towards this objective."
The UN General Assembly's Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy found a mention in this particular joint statement, but a clear pattern had already emerged by the fifth Brics Summit: Keep it general and keep pushing for CCIT.
The Fortaleza Declaration was an interesting change from the norm as it spent around four or five pages on the violent (and verging on, if not directly related to, terrorism) problems in Africa, West Asia (Syria and Iraq) and Afghanistan. And while Al-Qaeda was named, the usual throwaway line — which one assumes is meant to cover India — also made an appearance for good measure:
We reiterate our strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there can be no justification, whatsoever, for any acts of terrorism, whether based upon ideological, religious, political, racial, ethnic, or any other justification...
With the Syria eyeballs-deep in chaos and the purview of the Islamic State having spread to Europe and beyond, this statement appropriately spent a lot of time on the situation in Syria. The Al-Nusrah Front and Islamic State were mentioned by name and several crises in Africa were highlighted. But those hoping to see the insertion of something relating more closely to India in the statement had to make to with the usual:
"We reiterate our strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there can be no justification-..."
You get the idea.
It's worth noting here that the number of mentions that 'terror' has found in joint statements has gone up over the past three summits, which is encouraging. Unfortunately, a large part of this is linked to the turmoil in West Asia that is spilling over across the world, and the intensification (in intent, if not action) of international condemnation of the Islamic State.
Getting back to Indian interests, while the Goa Declaration was incredibly detailed in its identification of sources of terrorism (37 mentions of 'terror' is testament to that), the fact that neither Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad nor Jamaat-ud-Dawah found any mention in the statement should have come as a surprise to no one. China, the country that refuses to recognise Masood Azhar (JeM leader) or Hafiz Saeed (JuD leader) as terrorists, is after all a key member of Brics. Therefore, getting the grouping to agree on anything meaningful regarding the source of terrorism that targets India was always going to be a tough task.
Perhaps the bar of expectations had been set too high — maybe unfairly so — after India's resounding success of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit boycott, wherein Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka joined India in refusing to go to Islamabad (to protest against Pakistan's use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy) for the annual high-level meet of the grouping. But, Saarc is no Brics. Both groupings must be seen as what they are.
Saarc is a regional grouping where all matters that affect South Asia are discussed. India enjoys a great deal of support within Saarc.
Brics is a non-regional grouping where the primary agenda is to create an alternate financial architecture that seeks to give equal opportunities to developing economies — something, it has been argued, the present Bretton Woods institutions do not. The New Development Bank, launched by Brics, is a step in that direction. Acting on terrorism aimed at India, however, is not part of the grouping's raison d'être. India enjoys the support of Russia and to an extent, South Africa and Brazil. But China, among whose allies Pakistan features highest, is a different kettle of fish. Competing interests mean New Delhi will never have the backing of Beijing in issues that also relate to Pakistan.
And so, terrorism may well have been the focus of the summit, but terrorism aimed at India will never figure that high on the Brics agenda.