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Friday, 14 October 2016

brics-that-cement-ties Oct 15, 2016 Sandeep Dikshit India's biggest diplomatic marquee opens today in Goa. Having hit success with a $100-billion Bank, BRICS will try to move on to tackling terrorism. The role of Brazil & South Africa will be crucial.THIS weekend's meeting of four Presidents and our own Narendra Modi will be India's biggest diplomatic event for the year. Pundits of strategic affairs have given low ratings to this annual summit of five nations from four continents. When looked from the lens of a deepening shadow of a new cold war and the search for new alliances among India, China and Russia, BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-Russia) seems slated to be consumed by differences among its partners. On the economic side, Russia, Brazil and South Africa have slipped into a recession but China and India have done well. Politically, the South African President is battling corruption charges and Brazil impeached its President. In their foreign policy outlook, popular commentary portrays India as nursing misgivings with Russia for its dalliance with Pakistan. China seems to have further sullied its book by pro-Pakistan leanings. This interplay of acrimony, the pundits have predicted, will hobble the BRICS summit. The US also looms large in their calculations, especially in the context of the Kremlin-Pentagon rivalry over Syria and the reservations by China and Russia over its plans to set up anti-missile shields around their peripheries. The analysis suffers from two infirmities. These don't account for the intense desire among countries to keep their economic relationships going if differences are not of an existential nature (See box). As India and Russia hardly have any discord of a primary nature, it would be churlish and uninformed to interpret Russian military exercises with Pakistan as signs of a divorce between Moscow and New Delhi. Armies the world over have given up their reluctance to shake hands with the enemy. The phenomena is so widespread that hardly anyone bats an eye when China and Indian soldiers conduct drills or the US stages joint naval exercises with Vietnam. Why should a joint Russia-Pakistan military drill cause acute discomfiture to Indians? As a former Defence Secretary once said, “There is a very small group that know all that India does with Russia.” This ex-official doesn't think he belongs to this group because despite having spent a decade in top-level sensitive positions, he still won't know every aspect of Indo-Russian cooperation. Moscow has also kept South Bloc in the loop all through its dalliance with Pakistan. This began with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meeting Modi in Myanmar in 2014 and explaining how the spectre of Isis has led Russia and other Central-Asian countries to reach out to Pakistan. China is unlikely to be dissuaded from its drive to explore outlets for its industries. The scare over Brahmaputra, most likely spiced up by an idle newsperson in Beijing, was too speculative to have perturbed Indian policy makers. They also fully well understand the compulsions guiding Beijing's protection to Hafiz Saeed as also the fact that West doesn't mind China playing the game on its behalf as well. Otherwise the US State Department would not have held back its comments on Saeed while castigating the Laskhkar-e-Toiba in muscular language. Then there are South Africa and Brazil. They are currently undergoing a cyclical political and economical downturn but carry weight in their parts of the world. Along with India, these two are also hopefuls for permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The need therefore is to steer clear of both cynicism and exaggeration about the role of BRICS in today's current. By its very composition, it is not suited for political problem solving. When all the five were in the UNSC, their efforts to resolve Syria or calm down Palestine became footnotes in the troubled history of both countries. The original intention of BRICS was to reform the world financial system. This is what it is becoming better at. The five get together and frame a common approach for G-20 summits where the counter-block is led by the G-7. They have achieved limited success in their primary aim of enlarged decision making in the US-Europe controlled International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But they have made their voices heard on monetary issues where speculation has periodically inflicted tremendous economic pain on the common man. BRICS has now taken a giant step in trying to plug the infrastructure financing gap. It is estimated that the Bretton Woods institutions and their subsidiaries can lend only 40 per cent of the $1 trillion required for infrastructure development. To make up for the gap, the BRICS Bank, with an Indian as President, is about to roll out its first loan of Rs 7,000 crore for green energy projects. The BRICS has also installed a safety net in the form of a reserve currency pool worth another $100 billion to tide over balance of payments problems. A joint naval exercise by BRICS countries in 2014 were the first stirrings of cooperation on counter-terrorism. Goa will see the adding of more muscle. As has become the tradition at BRICS summits, the host has invited its neighbours to the party at Goa. The Modi government takes satisfaction in showing up Pakistan as an outcast. Its pointed exclusion from the BRICS summit would have given it added pleasure as takes over the Chairmanship and sets about rearranging its priorities.

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