Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief
The highlights this week:
- India stands to benefit from the recent BRICS expansion
- Protests erupt in Pakistan over high electricity costs
- Nepal implements a significant U.S. infrastructure grant
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India and the Recent BRICS Expansion
The main headline from last week’s BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, is that the bloc will expand, adding new members for the first time since South Africa’s admission in 2010. It may be easy to see the enlargement of BRICS—currently made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—as a bad thing for New Delhi. After all, more members could elevate Beijing’s influence in the group. Some observers are also concerned about BRICS’s future orientation. One of the new members, Iran, is at odds with the West; the group—initially intended to promote the voices of emerging economies—could take on a more clearly anti-Western stance, especially given China’s and Russia’s influence. That would present a challenge for India, which aims to balance relations with the West and the countries beyond it. However, this analysis overlooks the potential benefits of BRICS expansion for India.
Potential Benefits for India:
- More influence for BRICS itself, which aligns with India’s foreign-policy priorities
- New members not staunchly anti-West, with half being India’s top partners
- Opportunities for engagement in the Middle East, a growing arena for New Delhi
Pakistan Protests Over High Electricity Costs
Tens of thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets beginning last Friday, when electricity bills rose significantly across the country. Protesters have obstructed roads, burned their energy bills, and staged sit-ins outside power company offices. A caretaker government took over in Islamabad just a few weeks ago, and it raised electricity tariffs because of currency devaluation and rising petroleum prices. Lowering the tariffs could violate Pakistan’s new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which requires austerity measures. With soaring summer heat likely to continue for a few more weeks in Pakistan, public anger is unlikely to abate.
Nepal Implements U.S. Infrastructure Grant
On Wednesday, Nepal formally implemented an infrastructure grant from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which includes road construction and a new electricity transmission line, among other projects. Nepal’s Parliament took several years to ratify the grant, largely because U.S. officials have directly linked the grant to the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, raising concerns that it could drag Nepal into great-power competition. The MCC grant was signed in 2017 and ratified last year, after Washington reportedly threatened to revisit ties with Kathmandu if lawmakers didn’t put an end to their resistance. As the grant’s implementation date grew closer, China intensified its own engagements with Nepal. In July, the two capitals signed an agreement to accelerate efforts to complete existing projects associated with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- Afghanistan marks two years since U.S. exit
- Imran Khan’s political fate
- Japan’s aid to Bangladesh under Official Security Assistance project