On September 9, as the Chair of BRICS, India will host the 13th summit meet of leaders virtually, a new norm during the global health pandemic.
A decade and a half back, when BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was envisaged, it caught the world's attention. Five years later, when a fifth letter, an "S", was added to represent South Africa, it completed a card of five nations whose economies were on the path of emerging as engines for global growth.
As it stands today, BRICS comprises these five countries whose leadership meets to take stock of progress on three pillars of peace and security, economics and finance, cultural and people-to-people exchange.
On the theme of "BRICS@15: Intra-BRICS cooperation for continuity, consolidation and consensus", India delineated four priority areas for its chairship - reform of the multilateral system, counter-terrorism, using digital and technological tools for achieving SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and enhancing people to people exchanges.
While each of the priority areas was put through its paces, the global scenario today is different. Countries now remain uncertain how the future unfolds, from dealing with the pandemic ravaged economies to the arrival of vaccines and graded push to open up restarted global engines. Needless to underscore, the leaders will exchange views on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and other current global scenarios.
BRICS was a creation of member countries on the high path of growth. But over the years, they have taken different routes. China emerged as one of the strongest economies in the world. India remained on a steady course of progress with periodic drawdowns, with Russia following. The growth trajectory of the other two is nowhere near the projections of a decade ago. Can BRICS continue to readjust to emerging challenges, addressing individually and collectively?
The Thursday Summit comes in the backdrop of a significant change in the political landscape in Afghanistan in which three of the BRICS member countries, China, India, and Russia, have a direct bearing.
With the Taliban now announcing a new government, the world is working out ways to come to terms with the new reality.
As the situation changed on August 15, when the Abdul Ghani government melted away, among the early movers were China and Russia, whose imprint in the strife-torn country is deep.
The Summit's view on the BRICS counter-terrorism action plan will be of interest to the four priority areas. Its been firmed up by the representatives responsible for national security in each country.
Their meeting in late August finalised the roadmap to take forward the strategy adopted by the 12th Summit in Russia in 2020. Last month, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval played host to his counterparts from the other four countries. The meeting focused on the emerging scenarios in Afghanistan, Iran, West Asia and the Gulf and threats from cybersecurity.
The action plan, a key deliverable when India is in the Chair, aims to strengthen cooperation in combatting terrorism and its financing, internet misuse by terrorists, border controls, among others. Special emphasis is on the risk of illegal drug production and trafficking in the region.
It will be interesting to watch how the action plan, when adopted, would translate, especially in the region. Afghanistan is a poppy cultivation centre and is considered one of the most significant illegal drug supply and trade sources.
On its part, India flagged cross-border terrorism and activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which enjoy State support and threaten peace and security. These groups have launched attacks against India using the soil of a country in the neighbourhood, and New Delhi's concerns remain paramount.
During a meeting of its finance ministers in June, there was a call to establish and operationalise BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre. The idea is interesting as three members – India, China and Russia – have developed indigenous vaccines to combat the virus.
While efforts are on to combat the immediate challenge from Covid-19, a comprehensive healthcare system remains on the top of the agenda. Challenges in each of the BRICS countries are unique, and each can pool expertise to assist one another to collectively deal with 41 per cent share of the global population.
With the increasing footprint of a digital world in daily life, cyber security is an area that every country is working on and the BRICS as a group cannot be oblivious to these threats.
The number of instances of attacks and crimes committed using cyberspace is real. In August, India also hosted a workshop on digital forensics, which should allow the group to build up the existing capacity as BRICS agrees to fortify joint efforts by sharing information and exchanging best practices. As a leader in countries developing software, India enjoys a leadership role in this sphere.