Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) delivers a speech at the BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, China, on September 4, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Kenzaburo Fukuhara / Pool

At the recent BRICS Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for greater efforts to “comprehensively deepen BRICS partnership”, following up on remarks he made in June: “The BRICS cooperation is an innovation which transcends the old pattern of political and military alliance and pursues partnerships rather than alliances.”

At the annual BRICS Summit this month, the platform was used to determine the influence and effectiveness of the group as well as plans to add new members. Not only that, the security aspect was brought up, on tackling potential threats to future economic ventures, and a formal declaration was issued on behalf of the five members, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Named the Xiamen Declaration, it contains clauses pertaining to violence and terrorism in all forms, and manifestations of these worldwide were condemned with the resolve: “We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable.”

Commenting on this development at the forum, Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said: “Stressing counterterrorism shows that the BRICS Summit, which started from business cooperation, has expanded its cooperation to a more comprehensive level.”

Consequently, the following organizations were singled out: “We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/Daesh, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including the [East Turkestan] Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.”

Notably, three Pakistan-based organizations were included in the list of organizations that caused violence. Unfortunately, this portion of the declaration has sparked unnecessary controversy in certain sections of the media that selectively focused on the inclusion of Pakistan-based outfits.

However, compilation of the list was done with an even-handed approach, as the inclusion of even the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is based in China, makes obvious. This portion of the declaration only reiterated the stand taken by the United Nations previously over the issue.

Perusing the Xiamen Declaration, it is apparent that the stance on  terrorism is contained in paragraphs 47 to 51 without accusing any country of being responsible. Further, the 49th paragraph contains an affirmation that acts of terrorism shall be condemned no matter where they happen and who commits them, in the following words:

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 stress that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism. We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable.

Recalling the primary leading role and responsibility of states in preventing and countering terrorism, we stress the necessity to develop international cooperation, in accordance with the principles of international law, including that of sovereign equality of states and non-interference in their internal affairs.

We reaffirm solidarity and resolve in the fight against terrorism, value the second BRICS Counter-Terrorism Working Group Meeting held in Beijing on 18 May 2017, and agree to strengthen our cooperation.

These words contain no insinuations toward any country. Instead, the focus is on the non-state actors that indulge in criminal activities. Not only that, though terrorism happened to be mentioned in regard to  several other recent issues such as North Korea’s missile and nuclear-weapons tests, that was not one of the main matters on the agenda. Even so, Indian media celebrated the declaration as a diplomatic victory of sorts.

Assuring Pakistan that no demands were made of it as regards the freshly adopted BRICS declaration against terrorist groups, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong has said, “The BRICS declaration mentioned organizations which are already banned,” adding: “There has been no change in Chinese policy regarding Pakistan.”

It is also significant that only days earlier, both Russia and China had issued statements in favor of Pakistan immediately after US President Donald Trump announced his new Afghanistan policy and held Islamabad responsible for the mess in that country.

Clarifying the matter, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif explained that there was nothing new in the BRICS Summit joint communiqué – it merely reaffirmed the declaration issued by member countries of the Heart of Asia conference last year in Amritsar, India, of which Pakistan was also a part. Thus there was nothing new about the inclusion of Pakistan-based militant groups when Pakistan itself has recognized them as such for quite a while; denying this was just like making a mountain out of a molehill.

Meanwhile, more discussions are bound to take place on the matter soon. As Song Zhongping, an international-relations expert, has opined, terrorism could have an impact on the BRICS mechanism. “The BRICS nations have named the organizations as the first step, and the next steps are to share information and build a security mechanism.”

Combating terrorism proactively is the best option, and all proceedings should be in accordance with international law.

Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

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