The 18th summit of the Group of Twenty (G20) concluded in New Delhi on Sunday, September 10, with a resolve to focus its future meetings on inclusive development, dealing with the threat of climate change, terrorism and resolving issues faced by the global South. The Summit’s declaration reflected what the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed amounted to reaching consensus, particularly on Ukraine. Skipped by the two world leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the G20 summit was able to fill the vacuum with the presence of the Chinese Prime Minister and Russian Foreign Minister, along with the galaxy of several world leaders including the U.S President Joseph Biden.
To what extent was the G20 Summit a success and how has India reaped benefits from hosting this important world event? How has the G20 Summit elevated the stature of India in world affairs? Can the Summit’s hosting in New Delhi be ‘moment of truth’ for Pakistan? New Delhi holding the presidency of SCO and G20 in the year 2023 tends to reflect a ‘great leap forward’ for Indian diplomacy and especially insofar as projecting India as a voice of the broader global South is concerned. Barring fault lines in India’s domestic politics, particularly the one dealing with communal politics, India has managed to deepen its influence in global affairs.
The theme of the 2023 G20 summit was “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” which reflected the vision of member countries to be mindful of accomplishing unity amidst diversity, to deal with issues faced by mankind and to promote international cooperation. Two major decisions were taken in the Summit, and in both cases, Narendra Modi took credit in innovative pronouncements. First, the African Union (AU) was admitted as a member in the G20. Second, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, the United States and European Union to establish a trade and communication corridor linking India and Europe via the Middle East. Termed as India, Middle East, Europe Economic Corridor, an alternate to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the European-Middle Eastern and Indian corridor plans to pay rich economic and technological dividends to the three regions.
With the admission of the AU in the fold of G20, the group will now have 21 members. The European Union, with its 27 member states, and the African Union, with 55 members, will elevate the membership of the Group of Twenty to roughly 100 nation-states. Brazil will assume presidency of the G20 from India in December this year, which means the group will continue to have a representative of the global South at the helm. Non G20 countries like Bangladesh, Comoros, Egypt, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman Singapore, Spain and UAE were invited to participate in the Summit, but the next door neighbor of India, and the world’s fifth largest country in terms of population was not to be seen.
As quoted in Christian Science Monitor, a US national daily newspaper, in its September 8, 2023 issue “experts say the 2023 summit will serve as a victory lap for India, which has made great strides in positioning itself as a global leader and helped advance concerns of non-G20 members. Shortly after assuming the G20 presidency this January, India organized the two-day virtual Voice of the Global South Summit. The purpose was to provide a platform for developing countries not represented in the G20 to voice their expectations about economic growth, development agendas, and hopes for India’s presidency.”
While India has been in the driver’s seat at the G20 and successfully organized the international event, it went for a virtual summit for the SCO in the end of July this year. Perhaps Modi’s choice to skip the physical setting and hold a virtual summit for the SCO was because of Pakistan’s membership, as Indo-Pak differences were visible even during the SCO’s foreign minister’s conference, which was held in May in Goa. This tactic reflects Prime Minister Modi’s age-old ambition to isolate Pakistan at the international level and mitigate any global space for its western foe.
The implications of the G20 Summit need to be analyzed from three angles. First, the Summit marked a new beginning for the group by granting membership to the African Union, which is the largest regional organization in the world with 55 members. The group now represents around 100 states, and a whopping 85% of the global economy and population. Composed of countries representing both the global North and South, the G20 will face the challenge of delivering better performance. During the Delhi Summit, group members were not able to forge a consensus on issues like Ukraine and the climate crisis. Using Modi’s persuasion skills, host country India tried to give the impression that the Summit managed to adopt the Delhi Declaration with one united voice. At one point, the French President had threatened that his country will not be part of any declaration under the G20 auspices if it did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But he had to relegate his intransigent posture and agree to a compromise formula over Ukraine, where the members resolved to protect the territorial integrity of a state and adhere to a policy of non-intervention. Russia was not named in the Delhi declaration with reference to Ukraine, which was appreciated by the Russian foreign minister, but criticized by Kiev.
Yet, despite his domestic challenges, Modi’s regime managed to aptly demonstrate to the world India’s ability to play a leadership role. The signing of the MoU on the European-Middle Eastern and Indian corridor on the occasion of the G20 Summit is further evidence of successful Indian diplomacy in uniting Europe, Middle East and India.
Unlike BRICS, which tried to provide an alternate to the US led world order, the G20 summit was a compromise, suggesting the many ways in which the Western led order has to accommodate concerns from the global South. The credit not to plunge the G20 Summit in unresolved conflicts goes to the Indian Prime Minister and other world leaders, including the President of Brazil, who as the next head of that group from December this year, made it clear that the G20 will not be a divisive group, but will strive for the betterment of mankind. Second, from any standpoint, the G20 summit gave legitimacy to India’s leadership in world affairs. The brain behind India’s proactive diplomacy and foreign policy is the Minister of External Affairs, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, an experienced diplomat and son of India’s strategic icon Dr. K. Subrahmanyam. Since becoming India’s Minister of External Affairs on May 30, 2019, Jaishankar has professionally and ably led his country’s foreign policy. As an ardent supporter of BJP, Jaishankar shares the vision of Narendra Modi to transform his country as the world’s number one economic power by 2047.
India’s near perfect organization of a global summit in New Delhi not only projected Indian power, but also the allure of its culture. Critics argue that while India is plagued by communal schisms and violence in Manipur, the G20 summit was merely an eye wash to conceal the unfortunate realities of poverty, class stratification and discrimination faced by religious minorities. Yet, despite his domestic challenges, Modi’s regime managed to aptly demonstrate to the world India’s ability to play a leadership role. The signing of the MoU on the European-Middle Eastern and Indian corridor on the occasion of the G20 Summit is further evidence of successful Indian diplomacy in uniting Europe, Middle East and India to establish an economic, technological and communication corridor. However, to what extent the signatories of that MoU will succeed in giving practical shape to that corridor depends on political will and capability of member countries to deliver.
Finally, the fallout from the G20 Summit for Pakistan is understandable, because it had no presence or participation in that important event, as compared to several non-G20 countries, who were invited. If G20 is a moment of truth for Pakistan at the same time, other members of the group should question India over its failure to invite Pakistan, which is the world’s fifth largest country in terms of population, a nuclear armed state and holds a key geostrategic position in the region. But those wielding power in Pakistan must ponder on why Islamabad continues to singled out and marginalized in world affairs.
If the direction of Indian foreign and domestic policies is on a single minded track to become an economic powerhouse, the focus in Pakistan by those wielding power is on how to single out Pakistan-Tehrek-Insaf (PTI) and its Chairman Imran Khan. How to cut Khan down to size and deny people their right to have free and fair elections as envisaged in the country’s constitution is the only obsession for the powers that be. When the thrust and focus of Pakistan’s establishment and the caretaker government is not on ameliorating the economic, bringing about some semblance of political stability, good governance, rule of law and accountability, the outcome is even further degeneration of the already frail Pakistani state and society.
Henceforth, till the time the state suppresses its own people and denies them justice and a good quality of life, Pakistan cannot turnaround and will continue to go downhill.
An Indian space mission has reached the Moon’s South Pole, and India is already the world’s 5th largest economy and will emerge as the 3rd largest in a few years. Its foreign exchange reserves are around 700 billion dollars, economic growth rate at an astonishing 5.5% and remittances equaling 40 billion dollars, Pakistan’s economic performance is pitiful in comparison. With its economic standing 44th, holding less than 8 billion dollars of foreign exchange reserves, exports that barely amount to 30 billion dollars and economic growth rate at less than 2% per annum, Pakistan paints a picture of desperation. If the Indian rupee’s parity against the US dollar is 83 rupees, Pakistan’s rupee is more than 300. It is shameful that Pakistan is begging friendly countries and international financial institutions for more and more bail out packages. And Pakistan was better off than India four decades ago in terms of the value of its currency, per capita income and economic growth rate.
When the state is more interested in protecting the sugar, energy, water, dollar and wheat mafias, when the state protects and rewards corruption and nepotism by disregarding merit, rule of law and accountability, it cannot aspire to have a ‘great leap forward.’ Henceforth, till the time the state suppresses its own people and denies them justice and a good quality of life, Pakistan cannot turnaround and will continue to go downhill. The success of India on the international level is because of its adherence to efficiency, productivity, strategic planning, competition, vision and innovation. The G20 Summit is just one example of India’s success, as in the last two decades, it has made an indelible mark on the global economy in the information technology, education and research sectors. This is the lesson which Pakistan must learn from India, instead of looking for the so-called failures of the G20 Summit.