At the recently concluded BRICS Summit in Goa, China once again came to the rescue of its all weather ally Pakistan and stonewalled any attempts to name Pakistan based terrorist outfits JeM (Jaish E Mohammad) or LeT (Lashkar E Taiba) in the Goa Declaration, instead agreeing only to a watery reference of "relentless pursuit against terrorist groups so designated by the UN Security Council".
However, India forcefully put forward its views on state sponsored terror with Prime Minister Narendra Modi describing it as the "mother ship of terrorism". Emphasizing that the growing arc of terrorism today threatens Middle East, West Asia, Europe and South Asia, India submitted that "the most serious direct threat to our eco-prosperity is terrorism". Slamming Pakistan even further, PM Modi said that the country not only shelters terrorists, but that it also nurtures the mindset of terrorism.
These comments are in line with the strategy of isolating Pakistan diplomatically on international forums, adopted by the Indian government after the Uri terrorist attack. The gains from this strategy may not fructify overnight, as many in the mainstream media, habituated to a 'breaking news' culture, seem to think. The fact that BRICS grouping's main focus is on Investment, Trade, Energy and Infrastructure is not lost on anyone. By forcefully putting forth its views on cross border terrorism, India has sent out a clear signal that development cannot be delinked from security and that at least for the Indian government, development and security go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive.
BIMSTEC to the Rescue
Displaying his unconventional style of conducting Foreign Policy, PM Modi extended an invite to six countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, which are a part of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or the BIMSTEC grouping. While the Thai premier was unable to attend because of the recent demise of the Thai Monarch, all the other countries were represented by their leaders who welcomed the invite.
Not only did the BIMSTEC countries actively participate in the summit, they also endorsed India's stand on terrorism. In complete contrast to the Goa Declaration, the BIMSTEC Leaders' Retreat Outcome Document 2016 noted:
Recognizing that terrorism continues to remain the single most significant threat to peace and stability in our region, we reiterate our strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stress that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. We condemn in the strongest terms the recent barbaric terror attacks in the region.We strongly believe that our fight against terrorism should not only seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists, terror organizations and networks, but should also identify, hold accountable and take strong measures against States who encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues. There should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs. We recognize the need for urgent measures to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalization. We express our determination to take concrete measures to step up cooperation and coordination among our law enforcement, intelligence and security organizations.The language employed in the above mentioned document is forceful and checks all the right boxes for India. What was not so soothing, however, was the ambivalent stand taken by Russia.
The Tight Rope to Moscow
Considering the stiff opposition by China, and keeping in mind the national interest of Russia in the face of EU-US Sanctions, President Vladimir Putin did not stress too much on India's position on cross-border terrorism, but did not exclude it from his remarks either. At the end of his remarks in the restricted meeting with PM Modi, he said that "one of our priority issues is combating terrorism together".
The Indian Prime Minister sought to rekindle the warmth of time tested friendship that India enjoys with Russia by remarking that an old friend is better than two new ones. The joint statement released at the end of the meeting between the two leaders noted:
India and Russia recognize the threat posed by terrorism, and believe that the full implementation of the relevant UNSC resolutions, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy without application of any double standards or selectivity will be instrumental in countering this challenge.....They stressed the need to deny safe havens to terrorists and the importance of countering the spread of terrorist ideology as well as radicalisation leading to terrorism, stopping recruitment, preventing travel of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters, strengthening border management and having effective legal assistance and extradition arrangements. Furthermore, stressing the need to have a strong international legal regime built on the principle of ‘zero tolerance for direct or indirect support of terrorism’, both sides called upon the international community to make sincere efforts towards the earliest conclusion of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).It is clear that India understands the need to balance the growth of its bilateral relations with the United States with the deft handling of relations with its old friends like Russia, because Moscow and Washington have many antagonistic positions on issues of global concern. The agreement to buy the S-400 ‘Triumf’ air defence systems from Russia, worth over $5 billion, and to collaborate in making four state of art frigates besides setting up a joint production facility for making Kamov helicopters, is an attempt to walk the tight rope of seasoned diplomacy.
Zhou Enlai famously said that all diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means. Although China's stonewalling of India's continued efforts to isolate Pakistan diplomatically on every international forum might not be a call for a diplomatic war, but it certainly is a thorn in the flesh for the bilateral relations between both the countries. The Indian government will be well advised to play its cards cautiously while dealing with Beijing, as there is more to gain through trade and cooperation rather than by annoying an increasingly assertive neighbor. Though China might continue to protect Pakistan from severe international backlash, India must continue its newfound strategy to isolate Islamabad, as it is an improvement upon the previous policy of passivity in the face of terror and is bound to yield substantial gains, sooner rather than later.