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The BRICS Turn Against Pakistan

Pakistan’s hopes to resist mounting U.S. anti-terrorism pressure by aligning itself closer with China and Russia may be disappearing fast.

Credit: alan feebery www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The BRICS powers have for the first time identified Pakistan-backed militant groups as a regional security threat.
  • Pakistan has long seen militant groups, many of which have been designated as terrorists by the UN, as proxies.
  • China’s $50 billion investment in Pakistani infrastructure and energy has been threatened by militant attacks.
  • Sixteen years into the war, Mr. Trump is increasing the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is already reeling from U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s threat to sanction it for supporting militants. Now, it has been dealt a potential body blow out of left field.

In a statement at the end of the BRICS summit in Xiamen, the five major emerging powers, including China and Russia, have for the first time identified Pakistan-backed militant groups as a regional security threat.

Pakistan on the defensive

The statement by the BRICS countries, which also include India, Brazil and South Africa, called into question the degree to which Pakistan will be able to resist U.S. pressure by aligning itself closer with China and Russia.

The move also further strengthened India’s strategic position, which had already been boosted recently by Mr. Trump urging Delhi to step up its engagement in Afghanistan.

Pakistan faces the ominous prospect of finding itself caught in a pincer movement that ultimately challenges the very foundation of its national security policy.

Pakistan has long seen various militant groups, many of which have been designated as terrorists by the United Nations and/or the United States, as useful proxies in its zero-sum-game-approach towards India. Pakistan has also supported the Taliban in part to counter India.

Disappearing alternatives

Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan rejected the statement within hours of its publication. “We reject this thing categorically, no terrorist organization has any complete safe havens,” Mr. Khan told a Pakistani TV station.

In an Afghanistan-focused speech on U.S. policy in South Asia, Mr. Trump last month insisted that Pakistan’s partnership with the United States would not survive if it continued to harbor and support groups that target the United States.

In response, Pakistan was keen to explore the backing of China, Russia and Turkey instead. That strategic option may now be disappearing fast.

BRICS closing ranks

Although the BRICS statement did not identify Pakistan by name, it noted that Chinese President Xi Jingping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Michel Temer and South African President Jacob Zuma:

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.

The link to the country is self-evident. Pakistan stands accused of supporting several of these groups, including the Taliban, the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

“You cannot have good and bad terrorists, and it is a collective action. Members of the BRICS countries have themselves been victims of terrorism, and I would say that what has come of today acknowledges the fact that we must work collectively in handling this,” Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman Preeti Saran told reporters immediately after BRICS issued its statement.

The Xiamen statement is certain to have caught Pakistan off balance. Pakistan’s foreign minister Asif is likely to find out what the statement means when he visits Beijing and Moscow.

Why China stands with India

China’s more than $50 billion investment in Pakistani infrastructure and energy has been threatened by attacks by militant groups.

The Pakistani government is trying to crack down on them, but the effort is not convincing since key players in Pakistan itself play a duplicitous hand.

The BRICS statement suggests that Chinese patience with Pakistan’s selective support of militancy may be wearing thin.

Options for the U.S.?

That could be good news for Mr. Trump. To turn it to his advantage, Mr. Trump would have to find common ground with China and Russia in forging a negotiated exit from America’s Afghan quagmire.

That is clearly something many Americans, and especially Mr. Trump’s own voters, would greatly welcome.

Sixteen years into the war, Mr. Trump is increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The silver lining is that he hopes this move will force the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

Conclusion

All in all, this may be one of those rare moments in world politics where a seemingly intractable issue could be moving toward resolution as key nations find that their interests are aligned across big ideological and geostrategic divides.

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About James M. Dorsey

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and an award-winning journalist. [Singapore]

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