Most Indian publications were unanimous in their verdict on the Goa Declaration that consensus over terrorism has eluded Brics nations despite a valiant effort from New Delhi. The Indian media's consternation over China's role in the joint statement was explicit, with some going on to accuse Beijing of undercutting India's attempt to isolate Pakistan from yet another global forum.
These observations, while not entirely inaccurate, nevertheless fail to take into account that absolutism has no place in foreign policy. If we temper down our immature expectation that countries will junk their specific strategic interests and unanimously occupy a hard ideological position on any issue — in this case, the global scourge of terrorism — we may find that the eighth annual Brics Summit has actually been quite successful for India.
For a grouping of mostly emerging economies that was founded on the principles of greater economic cooperation and facilitation of better in-house trade relations, the Goa Declaration devoted five meaty, strongly-worded paragraphs that mentioned the word "terrorism" well over 20 times. It also included — for the first time — concern on countries allowing their territories to be used for terrorist activities and called for "dismantling of terrorist bases". Both of these reflect India's position on cross-border terrorism.
There were clear references to chemical and biological terrorism — a motif that recently cropped up during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reference to Pakistan using chemical weapons against its own citizens in Balochistan. The Goa Declaration also called upon "all nations to work together to expedite the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in the UN General Assembly without any further delay."
As The Indian Express points out, expediting the adoption of CCIT has returned to the BRICS agenda after getting dropped in 2015 UFA Declaration, signaling that NSA Ajit Doval's effort has paid off.
The Goa Declaration also mentioned the need for a "comprehensive approach in combating terrorism", that includes countering "radicalisation, recruitment, movement of terrorists including foreign terrorist fighters, blocking sources of financing terrorism, including through organised crime by means of money-laundering, drug trafficking, criminal activities, dismantling terrorist bases, and countering misuse of the Internet including social media by terror entities through misuse of the latest Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)."
The enormous effort, nuance, bargaining and compromise that goes into the drafting of such joint declarations leave no space for doubt that the text is clearly loaded towards India's concerns and reflects much of the spirit that Modi sought to forcefully introduce by way of his scathing speeches against Pakistan.
Does this mean that Brics Summit was an unqualified success for India? The answer depends on how we interpret 'success'.
Firstpost had argued in a recent post that for New Delhi to make anything out of the grouping of five economies at different stages on the growth and ambition scale, it must accept the ground realities and then proceed to focus on areas of convergence.
And the ground reality is that in the medium to short term, the world should get used to the rise of China as a global superpower and its increasingly assertive hegemony.
As career diplomat and former Indian Ambassador to China, Shivshankar Menon writes in his piece for Brookings Institution (What China’s rise means for India):
"China’s economic achievements in the last three decades of 10 percent-plus GDP growth have inspired awe around the world. We all know the consequences—the accumulation of hard power in all its forms… The speed and scale of China’s transformation are astonishing. As a rising power, meanwhile, China is determined to have an independent say in the economic, political, and security order around (it) and in the world."
If China seeks to bend the geopolitical region around it, there is no reason why it should play ball with India on matter than concerns New Delhi. In fact, keeping alive the border disputes and forcing India to remain engaged with Pakistan on a subversive quid-pro-quo that diverts much of New Delhi's resources towards defence equipment works out beautifully to China's advantage.
Although India, at a conservative estimate, is nearly 30 years behind China on the development scale and is belatedly investing in areas and introducing policies that China did in the 1970s and 1980s, there is not a shadow of doubt that the size of Indian economy and its demographic advantage will eventually result in a parity between the two rivaling economies. China understands this more than perhaps India itself does at this point.
Beijing also understands that for India to make up for lost time and belatedly realise its potential, it needs stability and calmness around borders. And through its various actions and manipulations, Beijing is trying to deny India that very stability.
In this context we must place China's resolute support towards Pakistan and its 'non-state actors' who want to suck India into a vortex of perpetual violence. The recent Chinese technical hold on Masood Azhar, refusal to let India enter the Nuclear Suppliers' Group or preventing the names of terror groups Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba from cropping up into the joint declaration at Goa are all part of a larger Chinese plan to hold on to the leverage points vis-à-vis India.
These diplomatic moves are complemented by its military presence in Indian Ocean littoral and huge spends in ambitious infrastructural projects — the CPEC and OBOR — that are calibrated towards the twin aims of trade facilitation and military-strategic depth. Its recent largesse towards Bangladesh (a $24-billion line of credit at low interest to develop Dhaka's logistical prowess) is a blatant attempt to needle New Delhi and put a ring around it.
Within these constraints, for Narendra Modi government to eke out a Brics declaration loaded heavily in its favour and tilted decidedly against Pakistan, a nation that China uses to keep India at bay, is no mean achievement.
Let's be real about our expectations.