Analysing Pakistan’s Bid to Join BRICS

On 1 January 2024, the BRICS, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, admitted five new members: Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This decision to admit new members was made during the group’s summit in Johannesburg in August 2023 and reverberated across the global geopolitical landscape, particularly catching the attention of the Western bloc, notably the United States (US). At the heart of the summit’s discussion lay the agenda of de-dollarisation in global trade, positioning BRICS as a viable alternative to dominant powers and their associated institutions, thereby drawing the attention of the Global South. Amidst these shifting geopolitical dynamics, Pakistan formally applied for BRICS membership in November 2023. While Pakistan’s application to the group was made optimistically, with the anticipation of getting backed by key members, namely China and Russia, it confronts many foreseeable challenges, including opposition from India, the influential role of the US, and Pakistan’s unfavourable economic situation, which loom large. This underscores the significance of analysing the potential advantages Pakistan could gain from its admission into BRICS, alongside evaluating the reception it might encounter and the internal hurdles that could impede its path to membership.

The idea of BRIC preceded its formation by a decade. In 2001, an economist associated with Goldman Sachs pointed out the potential financial significance this cluster could possess, a concept that gradually became an organisation of important global stakeholders expanding through the years from BRIC to BRICS with the addition of South Africa and the existing members in 2010. The primary goals of this informal intergovernmental coalition of emerging economies include fostering geopolitical and economic cooperation through intra-member trade, advocating for reforms in global organisations, and enhancing the representation of the Global South in international forums while routinely convening annual summits to discuss the recurring issues concerning the developing nations.

Pakistan’s pursuit of BRICS membership reflects the changing dynamics of the global power structure and the growing importance of diverse partnerships in shaping the future of international relations.

Pakistan took the step to approach the bloc for membership, especially considering its tumultuous economic and political situation, which it expects to salvage by becoming a part of the group. This move was discussed before applying, during official meetings under the interim government, where the notion of “wants to be a friend to all” was disseminated with financially motivated objectives. The decision became easier for Pakistan after it observed a notable shift in global dynamics following the expansion, where BRICS transformation into BRICS Plus prompted the attention of numerous developing nations from the southern hemisphere, dozens of which submitted formal applications to join the group.

By joining BRICS, Pakistan, despite being the weakest link, would still benefit from affiliating with a group that has a collective global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 28% and represents nearly half of the global population, making it a lucrative market for trade and investment. On top of that, the bloc’s capacity to produce more than 40% of the world’s crude oil post-expansion can potentially enhance Pakistan’s oil and gas trade if it joins the alliance. Since the group includes top food-producing countries like China, Brazil, and India, it could help Pakistan address its food scarcity issues. Furthermore, with improved trade ties, Pakistan’s admission could foster better cross-border collaboration with its allies and opponents, including China, Russia and India. Pakistan could potentially gain a position through which it can voice its opinion from a point of authority on a global scale.

Pakistan is seeking support from all BRICS members, more importantly from Russia, bearing the expectation of being added to the group in the upcoming summit scheduled this year in October 2024 to be hosted by Russia. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has put out hints about the BRICS agenda regarding the idea of a partner-state status list of members in the forthcoming event, indicating Pakistan’s partial membership. In addition, Pakistan remains optimistic due to its strong alliance with its ‘all-weather friend,’ China. For Pakistan, hope also stems from the belief that its inclusion in the group presents an avenue for Beijing to advance its geopolitical objectives within the bloc and the region. Pakistan expects China’s backing in the forthcoming summit to strengthen its candidacy for BRICS membership.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s potential membership is questioned due to its vulnerable economic situation posed by turbulent fiscal conditions and balance of payments gaps, further exacerbated by uncertain political situations. Amid such financial constraints, Pakistan first has to build its foreign exchange reserves before becoming a member of the organisation, raising doubt about its contribution. There are also concerns that Pakistan’s membership could strain resources within the bloc, particularly through the potential exploitation of the monetary organisations established in 2014 as a replacement for the Bretton Woods institutions, such as the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) both of which have the capital of up to $100 billion to support its members with financial aid. Also, Pakistan could face significant hurdles, notably due to its strained relations with India. India’s past actions, such as allegedly blocking Pakistan from participating in the 2022 BRICS virtual dialogue hosted by China, underscore this tension. Following Pakistan’s official bid for membership, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, hinted at the possibility of India blocking Pakistan’s entry into the group, citing adherence to the norms and principles established during the admission of new members at last year’s summit. Strategic concerns drive this reluctance, as India fears Pakistan’s entry could strengthen China’s influence within the bloc.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s quest for candidature becomes weaker with its reliance on the US. This dependence is underscored by Pakistan’s ongoing economic struggles and its repeated requests for assistance from the US-backed International Monetary Fund (IMF), including a $3 billion bailout package sanctioned last year with indications of seeking further assistance in the future. Given this reliance coupled with its domestic economic and political instability, BRICS may not view Pakistan in a positive light due to its inordinate alignment with Western interests that clashes with the main objective of the bloc that caters to the Global South.

Since its inception, BRICS has had a significant impact globally by aiming to reform the international status quo. This is particularly evident as the group highlights the issues and limitations faced by the Global South, which are often overlooked in other international forums. With its considerable economic influence and initiatives like BRICS Plus, the bloc plays a crucial role in shaping international discourse. Recognising this, Pakistan and other developing nations have sought membership. While this move aligns with Pakistan’s economic and diplomatic interests, it faces obstacles such as India’s objection, uncertainty about alignment, and economic and political disparities with BRICS criteria. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s pursuit of BRICS membership reflects the changing dynamics of the global power structure and the growing importance of diverse partnerships in shaping the future of international relations.

Faiqa Muqeem

Faiqa Muqeem is a graduate of International Relations from Iqra University, Islamabad. She is currently working as a research intern at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR).

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