icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Hither and Yon

WorldTribune.com: Peace ploys across bloody borders; Could Kim Jong-Un pull a Modi even if he wanted to?

By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com

NEW DELHI — The division between India-held and Pakistan-held Kashmir ranks with that between North and South Korea as long-running, bloody and dangerous.

The two were divided at about the same time — Kashmir in “partition” of the Indian subcontinent that gave birth to Pakistan as a separate nation at a cost of about two million people killed; Korea in the division of the peninsula in 1945 at the end of World War II, and then in the Korean War that ended in 1953 after another two million deaths.

India’s Narendra Modi, right, and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif.
I was just up in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian portion of that beautiful Himalayan land, nestled between towering mountains with glaciers glistening in the distance.

No one I met at Kashmir University was happy about the rise of Narendra Modi, who has described himself as a “Hindu nationalist,” as prime minister of India. Kashmiris, almost all of them Muslim, believe passionately in “separatism” — to be decided, they say, in a referendum in which they would vote overwhelmingly to become an independent nation.

Who would imagine, then, that Modi, the day after his swearing-in Monday, would spend an hour in intense conversation with the prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif? To everyone’s surprise, Modi invited Sharif along with the leaders of other nearby countries, to attend the ceremony and, to even greater surprise, Sharif accepted the day before the great event. Presumably he had to overcome objections from military people to whom India remains their sworn enemy. The invitation for him to come to India, and his decision to accept, were bold gestures toward reconciliation of contentious issues that keep Pakistan and India from normal commerce and cultural relations, while always hovering on the brink of war.

The summit, if that’s the right name for the meeting between the two leaders, conjures memories of the abject failure of the two Koreas to come to viable terms despite two North-South summits during the decade of the Sunshine Policy enunciated by Kim Dae-Jung as president from 1998 to 2003. Hopes were probably never higher for reconciliation when DJ flew to Pyongyang in June 2000 to meet Kim Jong-Il. Hopes were still high in October 2007 when DJ’s successor, Roh Moo-Hyun, also flew to Pyongyang to meet the North Korean leader, even though North Korea had already conducted its first underground nuclear test.

Would anyone dare believe that Kim Jong-Un, the anointed son, having given no hint of rapprochement since taking over after his father’s death in December 2011, would fly to Seoul for the inauguration of a Korean president? At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Kim inviting any South Korean president to Pyongyang — certainly not the conservatives who have led the South since the end of Roh’s presidency in 2008.

For one thing, we may be pretty sure that Kim Jong-Un is not capable of making any grand gesture on his own.

People do say he’s firmly in power, that he’s capable of making his own decisions, that he’s asserted his authority over the Workers’ Party, the armed forces and the government to a degree that hardly seemed likely when he took over at less than 30 years of age.

Despite a whole lot of speculation, however, there’s no evidence to verify the degree of his power. His survival may rest on a balancing act in which factions avoid fighting one another, settling differences in acclamations of support for the “supreme leader.”

Like the military leaders in Pakistan, the generals in charge of North Korea’s armed forces may be assumed to be dead-set against any rapprochement with the South other than moves toward another phony deal in multi-party talks that do nothing about the North’s nuclear program.

Therein lies another parallel between the standoff on the Korean peninsula and that between India and Pakistan.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear states, each ready to destroy one another. Nobody thinks they’re about to stage a nuclear war, but their membership in the global nuclear club of eight or nine powers, if you include North Korea, has to be disturbing.

Might Modi and Sharif have discussed ways to scale down if not do away with their nuclear weapons? No, they would have been lucky if they could approach an understanding on Kashmir – no more shooting by their respective forces across the “line of control” that divides the Indian and Pakistan portions. And it would be even more fortunate if the long border between the two countries could open to normal travel.

Rapprochement between India and Pakistan assumes still greater significance considering the dangers posed by the Taliban and Al Qaida in Pakistan as the U.S. withdraws its forces from Afghanistan.

You have to wonder which is more likely or more dangerous — that of conflict in Pakistan spilling over into India or North Korea staging incidents similar to the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. There’s no guarantee Sharif’s meeting with Modi will forestall violence, but it may help. It would be nice — but unimaginable — for Kim Jong-Un to consider a similar gesture.

Donald Kirk, has been following conflict and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent for decades. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com
Be the first to comment