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The BRICS Declaration Did China Ditch Pakistan?

The BRICS Declaration Did China Ditch Pakistan?

Recent weeks have been fraught with bad news for Pakistan. First, President Donald Trump accused that “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror”. Then, came the declaration adopted by Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) at their summit in Xiamen. This caught much attention in Pakistan and the uproar was on two clauses in the 43-page declaration – Clauses 47 and 48. Besides condemning “terrorist attacks resulting in death to innocent Afghan nationals,” the BRICS countries emphasized the “need for immediate cessation of violence.” Moreover, they expressed “concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaeda and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.” Pakistan has long been accused by India of harbouring Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the inclusion of their names is, apparently, a victory for India, though Pakistan had already banned these outfits. 

Pakistan recently has come under tremendous pressure, particularly on the alleged presence on its soil of militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and TTP. The fact that China also agreed to a joint declaration at the end of the summit, which has named militant groups allegedly based in Pakistan, as a regional security concern, came as a bombshell, because Pakistan’s most celebrated ally, China, was among the countries issuing the warning. This is more intriguing because just two weeks ago, when the US gave a stern warning to Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorists, China came to its defence noting that, “Pakistan is at the frontline of fighting terrorism,” and that it has “made sacrifices in fighting terrorism.”

Trump’s strategy has been discussed at length in the last issue of Jahangir’s World Times (JWT), so here our focus will be on the BRICS Declaration and its effects, especially on Pakistan.

This may not be the first time China has taken up with Pakistan the need for fighting the terror groups indiscriminately, but considering that the summit contains China, was held in China, and was stage-managed by the Chinese president, this definitely is the first public rebuke and is crucial because Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” has explicitly called out militant groups in the country – and tacitly Pakistan as well, thus signifying a major shift in the way China looks at the evolving situation in the region.

After the end of Doklam standoff with India, China’s policy in this region has took a sharp turn and the country now seems more in favour of geoeconomics than geopolitics. In order to sustain and enhance its economic growth along with feeding its huge population, Beijing does not want to enter into conflict or war with, for example, India or the United States. India, on the other hand, aspires to excel in manufacturing sector and exporting goods to China than to stay on as a recipient of Chinese products. At the moment, the balance of trade is heavily in favour of China where the latter gets US$80 billion as compared with India’s share of around US$8 billion.

Moreover, on the international level, China is projecting itself as an economic (and, to some extent, military) power. From this logic, it seems against China’s long-term strategic interests to keep supporting Pakistan unconditionally. In the United Nations, where the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil, Germany and the United States are likely to press for hard measures against individuals, groups and states believed to have been involved or supportive of terrorism, it won’t be feasible for China to offend all these countries, with whom it trades in billions for the sake of Pakistan. That must be challenging question for our country’s leadership, though the Chinese did provide us with their answer to it. We should stay mindful of these developments and never get carried away by emotions.

On the other hand, China has been investing heavily in the region with Pakistan being the major beneficiary of that largesse. A host of infrastructure and energy sector projects are in the pipeline of completion which will significantly boost its prospects of taking off economically. This comes as part of China’s commitment to the larger region where it has laid out a vast repertoire of similar assistance programmes for other countries, including Afghanistan. Understandably, China has been extremely eager to secure this initiative.

Concurrently, China has been expanding its political influence in the region. It has now become a major player in the quest for peace in Afghanistan which is also critical to consolidating its economic gains. It is in this context that it needs the support of other countries, India being one of them. While its expanding political arena can work to Pakistan’s advantage in the medium- to long-term, there are responsibilities which accompany that prospect. Eliminating terror without discrimination is the most important component therein.

In spite of being the major victim itself, Pakistan’s anti-terror policies have been a subject of contentious debate for a long time. President Trump’s recent proclamation is only a reiteration of that divide which has now been further fuelled by China entering the arena of critics. No measure of reiteration and reaffirmation of its close and strategic ties with Pakistan can hide the lurking pressure urging the country to move away from its traditional policy which lies in tatters. It need to do this not for China or the rest of the world. It must understand the dangers that continued presence of these militant organisations pose to its own long-term security.

From the above discussion, a clear message – from friend and foe alike – can be discerned: Pakistan must end its tolerance for externally-oriented militant groups – as the COAS has vowed to – and a serious national effort must be made if the country is to remain on the right side of international opinion. Pakistan must not make the mistake of dismissing the signal from BRICS – and from China as well. It does not appear to be an aberration and cannot simply be ascribed to overwrought allegations and concerns of India, Afghanistan and the United States.

Without an honest reckoning with the past, the reorientation of the state from one that supported jihad under the umbrella of the Cold War to one that recognises the great cost that it inflicted on Pakistan’s economy, society and standing in the global community cannot be complete. And without recognising that Pakistan’s record in fighting militancy, terrorism and extremism at home has been inadequate, greater success is likely to prove elusive. There must be clarity: Pakistan’s fight against militancy is its own fight for its own long-term peace and prosperity. Too often external criticism has been used by the state to deflect and deny legitimate critiques of its anti-militancy policy.

The BRICS declaration suggests an international trend that Pakistan cannot afford to ignore. The domestic fight against militancy must be made smarter, harder and more purposeful.

Geopolitical reasons will ensure that Pakistan and China maintain a strong and stable relationship, but China’s wider concerns – especially when it comes to trade – will force them to make some diplomatic concessions to other international players. Even with the realisation that it just might be that – a diplomatic concession – Pakistan should realise that all-weather friendship will ultimately come with some conditions.

47. We strongly condemn terrorist attacks resulting in death to innocent Afghan nationals. There is a need for immediate cessation of violence. We reaffirm our support to the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to achieve “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace and national reconciliation, to the ongoing international efforts, including the Moscow Format of consultations on Afghanistan and “Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process”, as well as multimodal connectivity projects to promote peace and stability, to the fight against terrorism and drug-threat, and to the national reconstruction efforts by Afghanistan. We support the efforts of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in fighting terrorist organizations.

48. We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir. (Taken from Brics Xiamen Declaration 2017)

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