THE US loomed large during Pakistan’s election campaign season as leaders pounded their fists, promising an end to American meddling in Pakistan, a return to sovereignty and a refusal of American aid.
The most victorious of Pakistan’s electoral contenders were unsurprisingly those most fervent in their denunciations and strident in their promises. It was all very well; most Pakistanis hoped for such a change, not worrying — as is the habit of voters — about its details or the obstacles in the path of self-reliance.
Now that the new Pakistani order is on the point of taking over the country, there must be some discussion on the prospects of creating an alternative alignment that is focused away from the US. One of the most promising new economic conglomerations to have emerged in recent years as a foil to American power has been the BRICS platform.
Comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, BRICS first met as a possible coalition of interests in September 2006 when the foreign ministers of these countries met in New York.
Several years of meetings followed, ultimately leading to a summit held in the summer of 2009 amid the dirge of a global North plunged into financial crisis. It was at this meeting that the policy agenda of BRICS began to emerge as focused on multi-polar regionalism, technological cooperation between BRICS partners and pushing the importance of dialogue over the use of force. Hu Jintao, then president of China, declared BRICS as “the defenders and promoters of developing countries” and “a force for world peace”.
Historian Vijay Prashad, whose book The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, assesses the possibilities of BRICS in terms of geopolitics and dominance of the global North.
According to him, the BRICS platform has certain strengths. Home to 40pc of the world’s population, it controls collectively 25pc of the entire world’s landmass as well as 25pc of the world’s GDP. Three of the five BRICS states are declared nuclear powers and two enjoy permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
Add to this some benefits of timing; the IMF says that come 2016, the US will no longer be the largest economy in the world, overtaken instead by China.
At the same time, notes Prashad, BRICS faces significant challenges. The countries have enormous cultural and religious diversity and differences of opinion which may pose a risk to them acting collectively.
In addition, they have not yet been able to create institutional challenges to global North-dominated organisations such as the IMF and World Bank and have for the most part not changed the character of policymaking from a neo-liberal model to one that invests more in the uplift of the poor in their own countries.
At the last BRICS summit held this year in South Africa, the launch of a new development bank was announced but without much fanfare or details regarding its constituency or capacity.
Finally, the biggest hurdle in the BRICS’ objective of championing dialogue and defending the interests of developing nations is that they do not have the capacity to sequester the military dominance of the UN and Nato. In effect, this means that when UN intervention is decided upon, BRICS has few means with which to thwart the carte blanche given to Nato states to intervene in global conflicts.
The assessment of the capacity of BRICS is crucial to a Pakistan that seeks to align itself away from the US and has elected a pro-business government. A move away from reliance on countries such as the US necessarily imputes that Pakistan must consider the possibility of new alliances.
In this case, the fact that India and China are aligned on the BRICS platform should make Pakistanis who believe that the hostility between the two can be exploited for Pakistan’s benefit reconsider that strategy.
If Pakistan truly seeks a turn from the crushing policies of the IMF and World Bank that have routinely exacerbated poverty in developing countries, then building an alliance with BRICS nations may prove a fruitful avenue.
It can be argued that much of the selection of new leaders in Pakistan was motivated by grievances against the US and also long-standing gripes against the vagaries imposed by transnational institutions.
Whether or not Pakistan chooses to pursue a closer relationship with the BRICS countries, its objections to military interventionism need to be expanded further into an ideology of also resisting economic policies that keep poor countries poor indefinitely.
While eschewing aid and rent-seeking mechanisms which have until now artificially maintained the Pakistani state are worthy objectives, they cannot succeed without a plan of alternative economic possibilities that explore how regional alliances and global multipolarity can further national economic objectives.
Ultimately, as the BRICS countries are themselves learning, the task of creating a viable alternative to hegemony is far more complicated than the rhetoric-fuelled act of criticising hegemony. While mutual enmity can unite for a while, it cannot unite forever when gripes return to the fore and threaten to divide and dissuade.
If the new leaders of Pakistan wish to chart a course away from geopolitical subjugation, they must also make a visible move away from all sorts of neo-liberal interventions, including the economic basis that always lets the rich win and ensures that the poor will lose.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.