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Monday, November 27, 2023

BRICS summit discussions center-stage Afghanistan

While there is much to be gained from mutual cooperation, when Afghanistan issue is concerned the ties between the five BRICS nations diverge over shifting alliances and respective strategic interests. Will this virtual summit unify these countries over Afghanistan, or will their vested interests dominate?

BRICS summit discussions center-stage Afghanistan this time although the alliterative theme of the conference would be “cooperation for continuity, consensus and consolidation”.

Since the advent of Taliban 2.0 regime, US withdrawal and the resultant political settlement in the country that had descended into anarchy and chaos for decades are significant issues that concern the regional countries and the world at large, Afghanistan discussion in BRICS summit is crucial for the countries to come to an understanding of the evolving dynamics in the region.

Also, how Taliban in their second regime would turn up is a matter of anticipation for all the concerned countries. Thus, the world has yet to see and judge the Taliban by their actions and not words. Alongside, the BRICS summit would discuss key security concerns both traditional and non-traditional exclusively with the future of the world affairs in the backdrop of Covid-19.

Virtual BRICS summit centering Afghanistan on Thursday

For the second year running, Thursday’s annual gathering of the world’s leading emerging economies – including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (comprising the acronym BRICS) – is held virtually due to the pandemic.

The summit is chaired by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is slated to attend, along with President Xi Jinping of China, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The attendance of Xi, who is selective about his appearances, is especially significant.

“China is sending a signal that it is still pursuing a multi-polar world,” Ian Johnson, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera. “It’s also part of China’s continuing foreign policy to water down US influence in the world by pursuing other groupings of countries, such as BRICS.”

Afghanistan crisis to unify five BRICS nations?

While there is much to be gained from mutual cooperation, when Afghanistan issue is concerned the relationships between the five BRICS nations diverge in the backdrop of shifting alliances and respective strategic interests.

“Clearly the big regional issue is Afghanistan,” said Miles Kahler, senior fellow for global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It will be very interesting to see if the meeting has any positive value in coordinating their policies with Afghanistan now dominated by the Taliban.”

But cooperation is unlikely to be seen as these nations are tied by differing interests strategically and regionally. China sees stability in Afghanistan conductive for its Belt and Road initiative while Russia advocates its extensive clout in Central Asia through Afghanistan. India, on the other hand, perceives the Taliban government and China and Russia’s support a threat to its interests as it had  been using the Afghan soil and $3billion investment as a trump card to ingrain its foothold strategically and vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Read more: Pak-China synerigize on Afghanistan while India struggles

China and India take opposing sides at BRICS summit

“It’s hard to come to an agreement on something like Afghanistan,” said Johnson. “They [BRICS nations] share an interest in not having extremism take root in Afghanistan as it did prior to 9/11. That would unify them, but beyond that, they have different interests.”

China’s biggest worry in Afghanistan, say analysts, is the potential for a security vacuum if the political settlement fails to gain traction that would cause trouble within its own borders.

“China has a border with Afghanistan and is probably most concerned and has the most at stake,” said Ian Johnson, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Beijing also has potentially beneficial economic ties it could deepen and develop with the new Taliban government, such as the mining and extraction of Afghanistan’s mineral deposits, including rare earth minerals that are vital to high-tech manufacturing.

Read more: Why is China stepping up geopolitics in Afghanistan?

Though India’s foreign ministry did not specify what regional issues will be addressed at the summit, with India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in attendance, it is anticipated that Afghanistan will top its agenda.

India supported the former United States-backed Afghan government, while its rival and neighbour Pakistan has more of a relationship with the Taliban, making the stakes higher for New Delhi.

India’s concerns in Afghanistan; a stumbling block for cooperation in BRICS summit

On Wednesday, just hours after the Taliban announced its new caretaker government, Doval met with his Russian counterpart General Nikolai Patrushev to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, according to Indian media reports.

India is warning that Afghanistan could become a haven for armed fighter groups. It is especially worried about the situation in Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region it administers only part of, where a rebellion has been brewing for years.

India is also a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “quad”, along with Australia, Japan and the US – which is increasingly concerned about China’s behaviour.

That doesn’t make it easy or as easy for them to cooperate in the BRICS framework or any other framework,” said Kahler.

Tensions are also still simmering between China and India over border clashes this past winter. The violence may have ceased for now, but it still looks like more of an unsteady détente than a hard commitment to peaceful non-combative resolutions, say analysts.

Read more: Unmasking India’s policies on Afghanistan