Why BRICS Matters For Pakistan – OpEd

“BRICS can act as a catalyst for the operationalization of the Pakistan foreign policy objective aimed at prioritizing economic security over the strategic security”.

In the chaotic multipolar world order, the emerging economies are paving their way towards prosperity and development, trying to bypass great power rivalry by locking into alliances. One such alliance is BRICS, an acronym comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Pakistan, as an emerging economy, is aspiring to be a member of the BRICS. It was disclosed on 22nd November 2023 by Pakistan’s ambassador to Russia Muhammad Khalid Jamali, that Pakistan has formally applied for membership in the BRICS.

Prominence of BRICS for Pakistan can be scaled from the fact that the forum represents 24% of the global GDP while being composed of members constituting 41% of the global population. Such a large quantum of the socio-economic global mass can bless Pakistan with enormous opportunities.

Pakistan can enjoy the economic dividends of being a member of the BRICS, as the forum is composed of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies that can open flood gates of opportunities in the form of trade, exports of goods and services, and the free movement of human and financial capital to Pakistan. Pakistan, with the fifth-largest population of 250 million people, is battling to find new avenues of trade and economic partnerships. BRICS rightly provides it so.

Financial conundrums of Pakistan requires a dose of relief as the country is storming through the worst economic crisis in its history. BRICS can ease Pakistan’s economic doldrums as the country’s economic challenges are compounded by the harsh bailout conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its economic assistance. However, BRICS has established a New Development Bank (NDB) and Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CBA) of about 100 billion US dollars to aid member states during the time of their balance of payments crisis, with much softer conditions as compared to the West-driven IMF. Pakistan’s economy is suffering from a chronic balance of payments crisis. Thus, entry into the BRICS can enable Pakistan to step towards economic healing.

As a garrison state, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been security-driven. The BRICS membership can alter this long-embedded trend by turning a new leaf in the diplomacy of Pakistan. Pakistan can prioritize economic cooperation over security contestation, as the BRICS members are pushing for economic cooperation against its rivals in the G7. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan may reorient its security-centric foreign policy with respect to the BRICS member states.

For real-time demonstration, the thaw in Russia-Pakistan relations can be the best example of the shift in Pakistan’s security-centric foreign policy. The two countries were at loggerheads with each other. Nonetheless, it does not appear to be the case anymore. The ice is melting at a rapid pace between the two countries. Islamabad, going against calculations of the casual realpolitik, purchased oil from Moscow at a discounted rate. Such developments are indications that non-traditional partners like Russia and Pakistan can utilize BRICS to rub their shoulders.

Further, the significance of the geostrategic location of Pakistan for connectivity cannot be lost on the BRICS. Pakistan is marked as a flag-bearer of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the shape of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Meanwhile, Pakistan also holds weight for the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Russia, as Pakistan provides the Eurasia path to reach the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI) and the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Railway Line are just a few examples, displaying the prowess of Pakistan’s geostrategic location. Russia and China, both being BRICS members, take Pakistan’s location into their own calculations. Pakistan can capitalize on its location to elevate its stature in the BRICS by providing connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia.

The BRICS Plus may have its own set of benefits for Pakistan. The recently launched BRICS-plus concept gained much traction. The concept extends BRICS boundaries beyond its traditional five member states. In pursuit of this objective, six new members have been given the nod to be part of BRICS-plus as of January 2024, which include Argentina, Ethopia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Iran. Pakistan shares strong bonds with all of these countries. BRICS-plus can further align Pakistan with these member states. For instance, Pakistan-Iran ties may see the dawn of a new day with the help of BRICS-plus, as Pakistan has been avoiding warmth with Iran due to the fears of US sanctions. The BRICS-plus can open a new chapter in Pakistan’s diplomacy with the above-mentioned member states.

Pakistan can utilize BRICS to counter the rising Indian global footprint. India has been using multilateral forums like BRICS to paint Pakistan’s image as a state sponsor of terrorism. In 2017, India utilized BRICS shoulders to settle its own scores with Pakistan by lobbying a forum to issue a statement against a Pakistan-based armed group. Pakistan will be equipped to counter the nefarious designs of India in a potent way if it becomes a member of the BRICS family.

Most significant is the reality that Pakistan has been prey to the global power rivalry. Earlier, Pakistan had been a major victim of the Soviet-US Cold War. This time, Pakistan is contemplating the foreign policy options that could mitigate the heat of global power competition between China and the US. Pakistan is treading its path on a thin thread as it struggles to strike a balance in its relationship with the USA and China. The BRICS can avail Pakistan with new partners through which it can easily manage its relationship with the global giants.

 All of the above, the affairs of international relations are heavily limited by the Western powers. BRICS acts as a substitute where developing world can resolve their issues without relying on the rules dictated by the West. The West controls, manages, and manipulates the affairs of the developing world in accordance with its own objectives. The developing world has longstanding grievances against the international institutions dominated by western powers. Global institutions like the United Nations (UN), the World Bank (WB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) often adopt an unconventional posture towards non-Western nation-states. The discriminatory conduct of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) against Pakistan is the best study case in this regard. BRICS can play a pivotal role by fighting the case of developing nations like Pakistan against the discriminatory attitude of the West.

On the other end, Pakistan will have to face multiple hurdles to join BRICS. India may pose an obstacle for Pakistan’s entry into the organization. It would be a test for Pakistan’s diplomatic skills to win over BRICS members in support of its membership.

To sum up, BRICS membership can bring about major political, economic, and diplomatic dividends for Pakistan. BRICS can act as a catalyst for the operationalization of the Pakistan foreign policy objective aimed at prioritizing economic security over strategic security as prescribed by the National Security Policy Pakistan (NSP) 2022. Through BRICS, Pakistan can avail itself of the above opportunities and take the first step in its ties with BRICS members towards achieving economic security for itself. Nevertheless, Pakistan must be cautious, as it can ill-afford to irk its Western patrons.