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INDIA-PAK PEACE MOVE: Will It Go Korea Way?

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Modi warmly received by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, at Lahore, Pakistan 4

There are some similarities in the situation in the two different geographical regions. Both the Korean peninsula and the Indian sub-continent were divided, though at separate times in the 1940s and 1950s, to open a history of mutual animosity. The hatred and bitterness that was generated by partition has not ebbed away in the sub-continent; well even in Korea. But the people of the two Koreas are not divided the way Indians and Pakistanis are…writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Modi warmly received by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, at Lahore, Pakistan 4

Many may still be rubbing their eyes in disbelief that the unpredictable President of the United States, Mr Donald Trump and the virulently anti-US North Korean strongman Kim Jung-un will agree to set aside their mutual hostility and distrust and meet in an effort to end decades of tension between the two countries.

While the Korean peace move, with its two major components of détente between the two Koreas and de-nuclearisation of North Korea, is yet to take a concrete shape, it has also raised hope that the two implacable foes in the sub-continent, India and Pakistan, could emulate the joint initiative of Trump and Kim to finally end 70 years of unmitigated hatred and mistrust in the sub-continent.

The objective is indeed desirable but it is hard to see how any parallel can be drawn in the situation in the Korean peninsula (or the equation between Trump and Kim) and the sub-continent. The points of divergence are so many that it is difficult to think that the Korean initiative can be applied to the sub-continent.

Modi with Nawaz Sharif

The civilian, military and religious leadership as well as the ‘awam’ (people) of Pakistan say in unison that relations with India cannot move forward without the resolution of the Kashmir issue. And the only way to solve it is to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan! There is obviously no starting point for an India-Pakistan détente because the most powerful elements in Pakistan have set a clear pre-condition which will not change no matter what. In North Korea there may be a single negative view of the US and South Korea but it can change overnight on orders from the chubby dictator.

There are, of course, some similarities in the situation in the two different geographical regions. Both the Korean peninsula and the sub-continent were divided, though at separate times in the 1940s and 1950s, to open a history of mutual animosity. The hatred and bitterness that was generated by partition has not ebbed away in the sub-continent; well even in Korea. But the people of the two Koreas are not divided the way Indians and Pakistanis are. Let us be frank.

North Korea has been ruled firmly by one family with the backing of the army. In the sub-continent, Pakistan has had moments of flirtation with democracy but never did its army loosen its grip over the country and its civilian or elected leaders. The entire Pakistani ‘establishment’ and most sections of the civil society reject the notions of a shared history and culture between India and Pakistan.

A major hurdle in the way of the two Koreas improving mutual relations has been North Korea’s declared intention to ‘unify’ the peninsula under the North Korean flag. It is to be seen how this obstacle is overcome by Trump and Kim when they talk or by meetings between the leaders of North and South Korea. But eventually it may not turn out to be an intractable problem. In the sub-continent, Pakistan talks of India’s ‘hegemony’ while wishing that position for itself, and takes pride in its Terrorism Export Incorporated!

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, at the 18th SAARC Summit, in Nepal on November 27, 2014.

In the Indian sub-continent, territory has been an important factor in keeping alive mutual rancour. Pakistan insists that Kashmir is the ‘unfinished business of the 1947 Partition. Frustration in Pakistan has been mounting over its failure to grab Kashmir from India whether by military adventure or proxy war waged through jihadis trained in Hafeez Saeed school of Islamist militancy.

Ironically at a time when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator (Pervez Musharraf) there appeared to be a chance of putting the Kashmir issue away in order to forge good bilateral ties. But the move was quickly abandoned largely because the Pakistan Army’s radicalised middle order was unwilling to go along with the plan. Today, it is inconceivable that Pakistan will talk peace with India unless it feels sure of annexing Kashmir. That alone should rule out any chance of replication of the Korean initiative in the sub-continent.

In Pakistan, hatred and uncontrollable rage against the ‘enemy’ has been backed by the State with school texts books, the clergy and the state propaganda constantly whipping up poplar sentiments against the ‘enemy’. While it will be truism to say that India has succeeded in erasing the feeling of alienation among its Muslim minority, considerable success was indeed achieved in spreading the message of secularism.

Since Kim’s control in North Korea is absolute it might be relatively easier for North Korea to suppress ingrained animus towards the ‘enemy’. The strongman in North Korea is in a position to ensure full compliance with his diktats on all matters. One order from Kim can induce people to look at their southern neighbour in a different light.

In Pakistan it will not work the same way even though the country’s military is as powerful as Kim is in Pyongyang. The reason is that the Rawalpindi Shura has developed a vested interest in keeping relations with India perennially on the boil. If India begins to be seen in Pakistan as a normal neighbour, the men in Khaki will lose all the power and pelf they think they are entitled to till eternity.

State propaganda and religious preachers in Pakistan have made it sure that the Pakistani psyche views its eastern neighbour with intense hatred and mistrust. Every Pakistani child learns, for instance, that ‘Hindus’ are not a virtuous people and should never be trusted. To erase that kind of mindset will require decades and decades of efforts.

There have been occasions in the past, much before the current Koran peace move, when Pakistani civilian leaders did seem to make serious friendly overtures to India. All of them came to grief at the hands of the mighty army of the land.

In recent years, Nawaz Sharif had won an election after talking of peace with India. He has ever since remained a suspect in the eyes of the military. Currently he is fighting a battle for political survival with odds heavily loaded against him. Asif Ali Zardari was another leader whose effort to improve relations with India were nipped in the bud by the Khakis.

Zardari made not one but two cardinal mistakes. Soon after taking over as the country’s president he said that India lives in the heart of every Pakistani. Not the kind of words Pakistani generals like to hear. Then, after the Mumbai terror attacks by a group of Pakistani non-state actors (a euphemism for militants trained and managed by the Army through its intelligence wing, ISI) in 2008, Zardari said he was ready to fly the head of the Pakistani intelligence to India to facilitate probe. In less than 24 hours he had to backtrack and swallow the humiliation at the hands of his generals.

Well, who can say India-Pak ties and Korea Peace Move are on the same page. Both are wide apart.