WHERE THERE’S A WILL, there’s a way.
The Trump-Kim meet in Singapore proved this yet again this past week. This is not to say the somewhat hastily arranged summit – the first between a US President and a North Korean dictator – would halt the long years of mutual recriminations, war-cries and missile threats. Far, far from it. But, it’s time to pin hopes on what has turned out to be a successful summit between those who were enemies of the first order in global politics for many decades. In the minimum, US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un met, shook hands, sat across a table, discussed matters of diplomacy, agreed to take matters forward and issued a joint statement to that effect. De-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not near at hand. It would be a long haul.
Skeptics might argue the talks will collapse sooner than later. Trump, they note, is not easy to deal with. He could throw a tantrum anytime. Optimists would stress that here is the beginning for a better future for the world as a whole.
But, those of us in the subcontinent cannot miss the signals that emanated from Singapore. They are positive signals for India and Pakistan too. If North Korea and the United States could turn a new leaf in their relations strained through generations, what of a new look at the India-Pakistan relations?
This would, though, be easier said than done, and could take much more than the push that both the Trump Administration and the dictatorial regime of Kim made in recent weeks, though not to ignore the roller-coaster effect at the initial phase of the path-breaking move. Yet, notably, Trump who made an about-turn midway through the preparations, quickly turned around to produce a stunning feel-good effect.
The public opinion in India is not against a reconciliation with Pakistan, despite the wars of the past and the long years of support that Islamabad extended to the pro-Kashmiri terrorists operating from its soil. Indians across the board feel “Partition divided us, but let’s be friends.” The commonalities between the two societies are one too many. But, problem is, the political and governance scenario in Pakistan is different. Unlike India’s governance system, Pakistan’s democracy is shaky, and there are one too many players calling the shots — as former PM Nawaz Sharif has pointed out the other day. There’s the elected government, the parallel establishment run by the Army, the Judiciary in between, and above all the fundamentalists and the militants, the separatists and the religious persuasions that do not see eye to eye with each other, be they the many Sunni sects or the Shias who are at the receiving end of the mostly-Sunni offensives.
By contrast, an elected leader in India, say Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi, can take the nation into confidence and move forward with great ease. The nation will stand by them. The multiplicity of power-wielders in Pakistan creates a situation in which dealing with the real Pakistan or its real leadership is virtually impossible and like a mirage.
Kashmir is just a number. A part of Kashmir is with India and another part with Pakistan. Both sides do not agree to the over lordship of the ‘other’ in the respective Kashmir territory on the ‘other’ side of the border or LoC. Prima facie, both can and should be content with what they got out of Kashmir and be at peace. Logical, but things are not as simple as this. The very continuation of the Army’s domination in Pakistan’s governance process is directly linked to its success in keeping the Kashmir fire alive. Hence the Army intelligence wing, the ISI’s overt and covert backing to the pro-Kashmiri terrorists.
The lifestyle of the military brass there are to the envy of even the top politicians there. Their expensive cars screeching past the thoroughfare and highways are as much a testimony to the power they wield as a sight to behold. In a highly corrupt nation, worse than India, the business interests and investments of the top army brass in major cities abroad, like Dubai, are not a secret. In the overall chaotic atmosphere there, the general public couldn’t care less, though. The judiciary holds politicians to ransom, and the fate of Nawaz Sharif now out of power as PM is testimony to the fact that politicians cannot get away with their acts, even granted that the Panama Papers revealed matters only selectively.
A nation where stability is more often than not a casualty, who would you confer with to establish lasting peace? Democratically elected leaders were overthrown in military coup more than once, Nawaz Sharif himself kept in suspended animation in the air when he returned from a foreign visit and found himself in exile; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party being hauled out of PM post and eventually tried and sent to the gallows; General Musharraf taking power in his hands with rare ease, reversing a democratic process but gone for good; another former PM Benazir Bhutoo returning from exile in the UAE back to her country only to be blasted in an explosion as her motorcade wended its way to her home; and a nation with a history of rulers being sent in exile as is the case now with Asif Ali Zardari; a cricketer-turned politician in the form of Imran Khan emerging as another power centre ….
Pakistan is unfathomable, to say the least. There then, to add to all these, are the separatist movements of Indian origin settlers in the Karachi region; the fight for freedom in the Balouch region, the repression by the army in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir… it is chaos confounded, the Army providing the confidence to the people that there’s life beyond the wayward politicians. Which is why, Americans engage not only the successive governments in Pakistan but also the army brass there to take matters forward.
Can India afford to do this the way the Americans do? India hasn’t yet; and chances are that India will not. It might not help either. Americans have the muscle-flexing power; the Indian army is yet to measure up to the might of the Pakistani army at ground level, for the reason that Pakistan has more heavily invested in militaryware in years past when India sat back and blinked. Add to this the nuclear bombs, small and big, that Pakistan possesses; and this in the hands of less responsible elements; and a chance of these landing in the hands of terrorists being very real, sooner or later, and this is more than a nightmare to us, the Americans, and to all else.
By contrast, North Korea is run by a dictator whose word is law there; and he’s the one who calls all the shots. He’s young; he’s aspiring to take the nation forward from the depths it had sunk through generations of rule by his own family. His father’s mind was clouded by the Cold War era rivalry in global politics between the Communist Bloc — of which North Korea was a part — and the capitalist block of Western nations led by the US. North Korea in the east played the Communist tune and reached nowhere. Its better half, the South Korea, stood with the US and progressed sky-high. Cuba, on the other side of Americas, the size of a mice set against an elephant, took on the mighty Americans for more than half a century, gained little, and is now in a sort of reconciliation mood. Change of generations in leadership helped. Fidel Castro is memory.
Family successions in Cuba and North Korea saw new leaders being in charge after the turn of the Century. Communist China progressed by leaps and bounds in the past few decades. North Korea that played the Communist tunes and fought the Americans on China’s and Russia’s bidding in the past, gained little and reached nowhere. Its people are in misery. Any wonder, then, that a new generation’s sensible young leader opted for a reconciliation with the Americans, set lurking fears aside, and moved forward, though with small steps and in a guarded way? Donald Trump saw an opportunity here, and the great business sense in him would not let go of an opportunity at hand. Ice,
thus, was broken.
Theoretically, Pakistan and India should aim for a similar thaw. Time it’s to turn a new leaf and concentrate more on economic progress and less on military build-up. But, the air is not clear yet. Problem is, the Army in Pakistan will be least impressed at such a turn of events. We have noticed it in Pathankot air base a short while after PM Modi reached upto Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. The weak political leadership there makes matters more difficult to sort out or solve. Who benefits from this drag against peace? Who, other than the global arms market led by the likes of Russia, the US and France? In the Subcontinent, they have a ready and lucrative market. China, for sure, complicates this scenario further.