The Korean Example for India and Pakistan

15.05.2018 Author: Vladimir Terehov

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“In order to resolve the contradictions between India and Pakistan, one should learn the experience of Korean reconciliation”. Under such heading (with reference to Pakistani publications), the popular newspaper Indian Express commented on the latest events on the Korean peninsula. And that once again underscores the scope and far from being local significance of what is happening now in one of the most dangerous zones of Northeast Asia.

Since the situation on both sides of the 700-kilometer “Line of Control” (which is part of the overall 3,000-kilometer border), along which India and Pakistan divided the former principality of Kashmir, is no better than in the region of the 38th parallel that cut the Korean Peninsula into two independent states more than 70 years ago.

Perhaps even worse, because the annual number of various ceasefire violations at the LoC (which has not been happening at 38th parallel for a long period time) is estimated in the thousands. And it should be noted that on the Hindustan peninsula, countries opposing each other also possess nuclear weapons.

So it is no wonder that in the fact of resuming the inter-Korean dialogue with the involvement of one of the main participants in the conflict – the United States, the participants of the almost hopeless Pakistani-Indian “clinch” saw an example of resolving their own problems.

Once again, however, we should note that everything is very vague on the Korean peninsula, and it is still unclear whether it will be possible to reconcile the goals of Washington and Pyongyang with the obvious presence in the Korean events of the second significant global player – Beijing.

The debut of an absolutely new game, the game that began on January 7, when Mr. Kim Jong-un in his speech proposed to resume inter-Korean dialogue, is not over yet. The negotiations between the leaders of the DPRK and the United States (seeming finally scheduled) will denote the end of the introductory part of this new chess game.

Their results will allow talking about the continuation (and the transition to the middle-game) or the completion of the game that barely begun. In the second case, everything will be back to square one with the resumption of last year’s mutual threatening rhetoric, accompanied by quite specific actions.

But even a hint of some progress in the almost hopeless situation on the Korean peninsula gave rise to hope on the Hindustan Peninsula. Where, just like on the Korean peninsula, behind the backs of the direct participants in the conflict, there is an obvious presence of the same leading world players – China and the United States.

In general, we can talk about certain analogies in what is happening in both hotspots of modern global politics. And, consequently, the references to the positive events on the Korean Peninsula are not unfounded.

An extremely important positive moment for the further development of the situation on the Hindustan Peninsula was the suspension of the seemingly inexorable tendency to aggravate Sino-Indian relations and the inevitable slipping of New Delhi into Washington’s “friendly embrace.” Which has already booked a “warm place” for India in the draft of anti-Chinese “Four” with the participation of Japan and Australia.

The adoption of this project by India would have meant the crossing of the “red line” in relations not only with the PRC, but also with Pakistan. The ties between the PRC and Pakistan were only strengthening, in response to the US attempts to turn India into a regional “counterbalance” to China, and also to reinforce the American-Indian rapprochement (quite definitely confirmed in the summer of 2017 by D. Trump), while Pakistan’s relations with India and the USA worsened.

Apparently, at the turn of 2017-2018 New Delhi decided to break this extremely dangerous for the country and the region scenario, trying to improve the political climate in relations with the PRC. The first positive signal to Beijing was the appointment of the former ambassador to China, Mr. Vijay Keshav  Gokhale to the high post of the Foreign Secretary in early February. He was the one who prepared the “informal” meeting of the leaders of both countries, held in the Chinese city of Wuhan on April 27-28.

Let us emphasize once again that blocking the negative trend in Sino-Indian relations is an absolutely necessary condition, which must precede the attempts to improve and Pakistani-Indian relations.

It should be noted that Beijing has long been calling for New Delhi to join the implementation of the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” project, as part of a more general the NSR project. But India reacted to these appeals coldly for the reasons of poor relations with China and Pakistan, and also because the CPEC passes through the Pakistani part of the former Kashmir.

With these circumstances in mind, the Chinese side did not insist on accepting the proposal in the course of the generally successful negotiations between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi. In general, the words “patience” and “sincerity” are among the main ones by which Chinese experts characterize Xi Jinping’s behavior at the meeting in Wuhan, and in general the new PRC strategy for India.

No less positive were the past negotiations evaluated in New Delhi. Above-mentioned Mr. Vijay Keshav Gokhale, in particular, said that the two leaders discussed a wide range of topics and areas of interaction, including “spirituality, trade, technology and mass culture, including movies.”

In connection with “spirituality” and “culture,” the author of this article recalls that in the past years, the press often published reports of meetings of prominent representatives of both countries who work in these spheres. At the same time, various complimentary words were uttered to each other, emphasizing the “interpenetration and complementarity of our two ancient cultures.”

However, closer to the end of the first decade of the new millennium such messages ceased to appear. That, in general, is not surprising, because the muses feel comfortable only in sufficiently greenhouse conditions. Therefore, the resumption of such intellectual gatherings will be a sure sign of progress in the political relations between the two Asian giants.

Possibly, it will be preceded by a meeting of the leaders of both countries in Wuhan. In general, now it would be possible to begin the establishment of Pakistani-Indian relations. Although it’s not really clear how.

Coming back to the theme of historical and current analogies, let us fantasize. Let’s draw our attention to the fact that, similar to the case with the two Koreas, on the Hindustan Peninsula (also relatively recently) there was a more or less unified (quasi)state as well, which at the final stage of its existence was called “British India.” Moreover, except for the period of two or three last decades, Hindus and Muslims lived quite peacefully there.

Why not imagine the appearance of something similar to the (con)federation of present-day India and Pakistan in the future? Especially since a certain part of the Indian elite increasingly perceives its country as the heiress of “British India.” However, as noted by the famous Indian expert C. Raja Mohan, “the theme of unification on the subcontinent [Hindustan] is taboo for Pakistan”. We will add, – for now.

It is also necessary to touch upon the factor of the significant presence of a world leader – the United States in the region. In particular, the same C. Raja Mohan believes that one of the main goals of the Chinese leader during the negotiations with N.Mody was to overcome the negative attitude due to the pre-war state in trade and economic relations with Washington.

Therefore, the Indian expert continues, one should expect the transfer of Beijing’s strategy for restoration of normal relations to other “difficult [but important] neighbors” of the PRC. Primarily Japan and Vietnam.

Finally, we should note once again that the positive impact of the beginning of detente on the Korean Peninsula spreads far beyond the boundaries of Northeast Asia. Maybe something similar could suddenly happen on the Hindustan Peninsula as well!?

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.