The Brics summit and the overlapping Bimstec outreach meet of regional powers in Goa over the weekend were hyped up beyond expectation to deliver unrealistic results. "It was a damp squib," said former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra. While terrorism was part of the Goa Declaration, Pakistan was not named. This had to do with China, and Russia did not try to overrule President Xi Jinping either. In its obsession with Pakistan, India overlooked the obvious: China would play its hand.
Beijing had done so on the issue of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and over Masood Azhar in the UN Security Council. Why did India believe that China would change its views? That is a question both Indian diplomats and the government must answer.
Goa was to play a pivotal part in India’s diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan. Terror emanating from Pakistan was to be the main focus at both these meets. Ever since the Uri attack, Indian diplomacy has got stuck on a one point agenda: get the world to side with you and condemn Pakistan. This is all very well, but at a time when Indian ambitions of being a global player under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is soaring, the constant focus on Pakistan is bringing the country down to the India-Pakistan sub continental matrix.
This is something successive governments had fought against for decades. Delhi would be piqued, if visiting dignitaries, especially from the US and other western nations, would also visit Pakistan. India wanted to break away from this with its connotations of the South Asian context. After Uri, India’s entire foreign policy seems to be entirely focused on Pakistan.
"The Goa meet is a textbook lesson on how not to conduct India's diplomacy," said the former bureaucrat who has a good hold on foreign affairs. He was also India’s ambassador to the US when India conducted its nuclear tests in 1998. Considering that the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa grouping of the emerging economies is more a trade body, it was not a forum to hammer home the point about Pakistan and terror. India's diplomatic surge in Brics was ill-timed.
Much more important is the fact that with China batting for Pakistan all along, it was to be expected that no anti-Pakistan statement would be reflected in the communiqué at the end of the Summit. Indian diplomats are well aware of the changing relations in world politics. Russia’s ties with the US has reached rock bottom. It is almost as if the Cold War era is back.
On Syria, Russia and US are on opposite sides. Washington has accused President Vladimir Putin’s men of trying to influence the US elections by hacking into sensitive email accounts. Putin is now the villain, much like what Iraq’s Saddam Hussain was before the Iraq invasion. Putin is smarting under the US insults, which are thrown at him every single day. He is coming closer to China and in the equation, China for the moment is calling the shots. At the same time, Moscow cannot but be unaware of India’s growing closeness to the US. Moscow's overtures to Pakistan, including holding of joint military exercises, may also be due to China’s prodding.
According to Chandra, Russia is keen to be a part of the China-Pakistan economic corridor. This may one day also extend to Afghanistan. In these circumstances India would have been day dreaming if it wanted a strong anti-Pakistan statement. Islamabad will be crowing that the two major powers, China and India’s old friend Russia had refused to turn Brics into a anti-Pakistan platform.
India's ultra nationalist media has also played into the narrative. Either a country is with India or against India. There are no shades here. Other countries national and strategic interests are of little importance. Condemn Pakistan and make it pay for its sponsorship of terrorism. India is delighted with phrases describing Pakistan as the ivy league of terror, a fountain head of terror. But in the end except for pleasing the domestic audience, what does it achieve? Precious little.
Much was made of a young Indian diplomat being fielded at the UN General Assembly to reply to Nawaz Sharif’s Kashmir-centric speech, but what did that achieve really. Again the domestic constituency was thrilled, but what else. Perhaps this is what the government is hoping to impress ahead of crucial elections in pivotal states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Manipur early next year.
India has been more successful with the Bimstec countries. Bangladesh and Bhutan are with India. So is Sri Lanka, though the government is coming under criticism for pulling out of Saarc, at what is seen as following India’s diktat. Nepal’s Prachanda is also under fire. The smaller regional powers may well be with Delhi but that is neither here or there, when Russia and China have stood by Pakistan.