As the global order shows tendencies of dramatic shifts—particularly in economic collaborations between states that were previously deemed impossible—BRICS, an economic bloc of the global south, has moved towards dynamic expansion during its recent summit. The 15th BRICS Summit, held in Johannesburg, witnessed an expansion as six new members- Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have been invited to join the bloc. The addition of the developing nations to the bloc indicates establishing a solid coalition to serve the interests of the Global South. BRICS is seen as an opportunity by many, as more than 40 countries expressed their interest in joining, and 23 formally applied for it, but six were approved for membership following the guiding principles of the bloc.
BRICS is seen as an economic bloc that would categorically uphold the global south across the board, the consensus-based expansion has prevented many states of vibrant potential from joining the bloc.
In this regard, India’s role is particularly noteworthy. India appears to be using the unanimity principle to block several states from joining the bloc. The differences between the two leading economies within this bloc, China and India, seem to be the primary driving force behind India’s distinct approach to expansion and the addition of new member states. To gain a deeper insight, a piece published by The Wire India sheds light on India’s stance toward BRICS expansion and the reasons behind India’s rejection of some states. The article identifies a pattern observed in all 23 cases: India’s alignment with the West as a major influencer of its decisions regarding certain states. For instance, the case of Belarus exemplifies this pattern as Belarus’ alliance with Russia and escalating Western tensions, particularly after the Ukraine war, played a significant role in India’s decision to block Belarus from joining BRICS. Additionally, the case of Cuba supports this pattern as the US’ concerns about Cuba and its allegations of Chinese spy bases in the country became the primary reasons for India’s opposition to including the South American developing economy in the BRICS framework. Similarly, when approving the inclusion of several countries, India seemed inclined toward states viewed as pro-Western, undermining the foundational principles of the BRICS bloc.
Then comes forth the case of Pakistan, a mix of multiple dynamics. China has shown keen interest in integrating Pakistan into the BRICS framework, evidenced by China’s argument that BRICS membership should include more developing nations. China’s inclination towards including Pakistan is motivated by the Chinese urge to develop BRICS as a geopolitical rival to the G-7 group.
Although Pakistan, despite extreme economic turmoil, refrained from showing any interest formally in joining BRICS, as evidenced by the statement of the Foreign Office spokesperson. Understandably, Pakistan can benefit highly from its inclusion in BRICS. Still, this decision is catalyzed particularly because of two reasons: first, Pakistan refrains from any bloc politics, whether it is economic or defense, and second, the India factor: Pakistan is obvious that as long as the principle of unanimity exists in the expansion mechanism of BRICS, there is no chance of Pakistan’s inclusion as India will resist it at all costs.
India opposes China’s bid to incorporate Pakistan and other developing nations into international organizations due to concerns about its own influence being undermined by China’s actions.
As for India’s stance on these developments, the primary reason behind India’s counteraction against China’s push to integrate Pakistan and other developing nations lies in India’s apprehension that China seeks to undermine India’s position within the bloc by incorporating states over which China holds leverage. India is concerned that such a move could substantially impact India’s influence and position, impeding India’s aspirations within this economic alliance. Moreover, other viewpoints suggest that India’s position is also motivated by a fear that China intends to utilize BRICS to expand its strategic influence in the developing world, thereby undercutting India’s growing engagements with these nations.
However, regardless of their validity, these arguments do not seem to apply in the case of Pakistan. Particularly over the last decade, India’s policy of ‘Neighborhood First minus Pakistan‘ has been evident at the regional level, on the global stage, and across all forums. Historical tensions between the two nations fuel this policy, but it has intensified in the past decade due to rising nationalism in India and escalating tensions between the two countries. Consequently, these elements provide substantial insights into India’s determination to block any invitation extended to Pakistan to join BRICS as a member state.
While the international structure undeniably influences states’ foreign policy choices to a certain extent, obstructing the inclusion of numerous developing states into an economic bloc explicitly categorized as a bloc of third-world countries contradicts the very principles underlying the formation of such an alliance. There seems to be a need for Indian policymakers to approach such matters with an open mind and uphold the forum’s original purpose so that it can fulfill the role it was designed for.
Syed Basim Raza is a Researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
Ureeda Khan is an MPhil scholar at Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad