India, Pakistan and the Big 2



Madhusudhana Rao S

The 8th BRICS summit which concluded in Goa on Sunday has put India in a piquant situation. So far, no other summit meeting of leaders hailing from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) had any difficulty in reaching a consensus on global issues which directly or indirectly impact the grouping’s member states. But the just-concluded Goa meet had to deal with a changed scenario, more specifically Indo-Pak tensions.

A look at the composition of BRICS bloc reveals this: Two Asian countries (China and India, the two most populous countries in the world), Russia (a major military power), Brazil (a rising economic power in Latin America) and South Africa (a strong nation in the African continent). When these countries’ heads of state or government meet, their outlook will be global and their agenda will focus on mutual cooperation and economic development. They are not expected to be bogged down by regional issues which anyway are endemic to all the geographical regions.

At the end of the summit on Sunday, the joint communiqué issued by BRICS members had hardly any reference to India’s terrorism allegations against Pakistan despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi making a pointed reference to the neighbouring country. Nevertheless, he made a spirited attempt to further isolate Pakistan diplomatically, calling it the ‘mother ship of all terrorism’. If Delhi had hoped to garner BRICS members’ moral support to its diplomatic campaign against Pakistan for its perceived role in militant attacks on Uri and Pathankot military bases, it’s a disappointment. But it should not be seen as a setback to Modi’s drive as he did succeed in pin-pricking China by highlighting the cross-border terrorism issue.

Delhi knows that despite India’s best efforts, China is not going to leave its all-weather friend Pakistan in the lurch. On the other hand, Beijing will do everything possible to keep India on tenterhooks in spite of rising economic ties. It’s a simple game of one-upmanship in the game of brinkmanship.

In fact, post surgical strikes by India on some terrorist camps in occupied Kashmir, two decisions taken by Beijing have put the China-Pakistan-India triangular relationship in a defining shape.

One is blocking of a tributary of River Brahmaputra to facilitate the construction of a giant hydroelectric dam in Tibet and the second is to ‘rescue’ Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar from UN Security Council sanctions.

While the first decision is seen as a Chinese answer to India’s bid to review Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan as part of a diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan, the second one is to frustrate Delhi’s attempts to seek international sanctions against Masood Azhar through a UN Council resolution for masterminding the 26/11 and Pathankot air base attacks.

In other words, China has a knack of playing cards carefully and in a calculated way to ‘fix’ others in international politics. So, China takes advantage of Indo-Pak disputes ranging from terrorism to occupied areas to further its economic interests and expand its political support base in Asia, Africa and West Asia. By supporting Pakistan, (irrationally, we may say) morally and economically it stands gained. Long-term benefits include pulling Pakistan out of the American orbit by dangling massive military and financial aid before Pak leaders.

Chinese efforts have already put paid as Pakistan has now started threatening to ditch Washington and embrace Beijing by raising the bogey of the US siding with its perpetual foe India. After having succeeded with Pakistan, China is wooing Bangladesh with a $20 billion aid package, which is ten times more than that of India’s. The Chinese leaders appear to be filling the gaps in their strategic ‘string of pearls’ theory. Not long ago, massive Chinese aid to Sri Lanka had created consternation in New Delhi and the latest aid offer to Dhaka would be of considerable concern to the Indian government.  

At a time when China is systematically expanding its footprint in the Asian region, whatever its motives are, Russia has entered the fray. Indo-Russian friendship goes back to the Nehru era. Often labeled ‘time-tested,’ the strategic ally status has worn out over a period of time. With successive US Presidents unabashedly embracing India –including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – the Kremlin has found a foothold in Pakistan. With recent joint military exercises and aid promises, Russia appears to have entered that country through back door to counter Chinese and American influence.

Of course, to allay Indian fears, Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a slew of defence and economic pacts worth billions of dollars during his Saturday-Sunday visit. India may feel satisfied with renewed Russian cooperation pledge, but what have to be watched are Russian motives and the presence of three big powers in Pakistan. If that country was riding two boats – US and China – earlier, now it has added one more. In the realignment of Pak allies, where does Washington stand?

At the BRICS summit, the member states have subtly conveyed to India where it stands. While Pakistan doesn’t have a moral standing as far as terrorism is concerned, it is using its geographical position to prop up its strategic importance in big power politics to counter India. Even if India bares Pakistan, some country will cover it, not to save that country from being shamed but to protect self-interests. If it is a fact, it is also a tragedy.

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