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The BRICS Declaration and Pak-China Relations

Following the end of the 73 day India-China standoff at Doklam, the BRICS summit was held in Xiamen, China from September 3-5. Previously, the ongoing Doklam dispute had complicated the possibility of China hosting its annual summit successfully with India in the mix. However, coincidentally days before the BRICS summit was scheduled the Indian PM confirmed he will be visiting China for the BRICS summit, hence corroborating news of the Doklam dispute officially coming to a close.

The Xiamen Declaration’s 48th paragraph signed by both China and India figured in various analyses circulated thereafter. It was of particular significance to India and Pakistan, considering it hinted at possible changes in China’s take on Pakistan and terrorism.

The paragraph read: “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.”

For the first time the BRIC’s declaration specifically named Pakistan-based terror groups.

The statement added, “we deplore all terrorist attacks worldwide, including attacks in BRICS countries, and condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever”, and emphasized that “those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable.”

It is significant to recall, the Chinese foreign ministry categorically asked India not to bring up Pakistan during the last BRICS summit, saying: “We notice that India when it comes to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism has some concerns. I don’t think this is an appropriate topic to be discussed at BRICS Summit.” Historically, China has blocked Indian efforts to call out Jash-e-Mohammad’s chief, Masood Azhar as a UN-designated terrorist.

Subsequently, the Xiamen Joint declaration was the first time China signed a statement naming Pakistan-based terror groups. Despite the fact that China denied a change in policy and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that “Pakistan has done its best with a clear conscience” on counterterrorism, Pakistan heard China’s message loud and clear. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who visited China to discuss the BRICS declaration and Trump’s new Afghan policy, in talks admitted that Pakistan should “impose some restrictions on the activities of elements like LeT and JeM, so that we can show the global community that we have put our house in order.”

After the declaration, the possible implications of Beijing’s move on Pak-China relations loomed large in political circles in India. From India’s standpoint, China’s agreement to highlight Pakistan-based terror threats was a huge diplomatic success, especially post-Doklam.

Leaders of India and China on the last day of the summit met at the sidelines to discuss the importance of Indo-China cooperation, alluding also to the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”: “mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference, equal and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence”.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan rejected the BRICS declaration. Appearing before the NA Standing Committee on Defence, Khan denied Pakistan had terrorist safe havens.

Ironically, the declaration did not mention Pakistan even once.

Pakistan’s response to the BRICS declaration may have done a bigger disservice to Pakistan’s regional position than China’s decision to sign the declaration.

Pakistan is known to have either banned all militant groups mentioned in the declaration or denied them as being based in the country. It has admitted the Haqqani Network has “moved to Afghanistan”. In case of Hizbul Mujahideen sanctions on the group were condemned by Pakistan, and with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group is officially banned in the country. After the Pathankot attack, Pakistan also launched an operation against Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) — another banned outfit.

Pakistan instantly becoming defensive then perhaps points to a larger problem. The issue at hand may have instead been Pakistan’s inability to establish consistency. After Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan admitted to having some “remnants” of the aforementioned organizations on Pakistan’s soil, ambassador to the US Aizaz Chaudhry called on Afghanistan to take action while claiming the terror groups were really on Afghan soil, and soon after the Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa followed saying the world should “do more” against terrorism.

Such irregularities do little to help Pakistan’s position on terrorism. China’s move as subtle as it was, has pointed to the ways in which China may be capable of changing stance: moving from Islamabad’s defense to working out ways to end Pakistan’s selective approach on terrorism. Instead of pointing fingers and painting itself as being attacked, a better course of action for Pakistan may be restating confidence in anti-terror initiatives and reaffirming the fight against all militant groups.

It is also significant that China’s acquiescence to the wording of the BRIC’s declaration came after the US had sounded a similar warning in the new US policy on South Asia. While President Trump had named Pakistan the BRIC’s Declaration did not specifically mention Pakistan though the message was clear and by its response Pakistan implicated itself.

Additionally, it is important to note that India, US and Japan have called for the respect of ‘international norms’ and ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’ on connectivity initiatives, delivering a thinly veiled joint reminder to China and by implication to Pakistan on the Belt and Road initiative and CPEC. India has been objecting to CPEC on these grounds. Pakistan needs to note the winds of change and understand how India may be exploiting multilateral forums and interactions to target Pakistan. A recent editorial stated that Pakistan was trying to mainstream banned terror linked organizations into politics as a policy thereby creating a hardline political grouping on Kashmir with the JuD being the first to announce its reinvention as a political party. Pakistan needs to formulate a comprehensive response to the discernible trends and evolving international scene.

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