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Peace: Path To Progress

Peace: Path To Progress

Thankfully, it is peace time in the Korean peninsula, ravaged by military hostilities from 1950 to 1953. A truce between the two sides ended the fighting there in the 1950s but not forever. North and South Koreas, separated by history, have been at war with each other all these 60 plus years. But now the leaderships of the two sides have vowed to take to the path of brotherliness and cooperation for stability and economic growth. The peninsula’s inhabitants as well as the people in the neighbouring countries and beyond are heaving a deep sigh of relief.

By agreeing to make the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons and to officially declare an end to the “Korean war”, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un have affirmed their faith in cooperative co-existence and all that is required for lasting peace and progress. The historic meeting between the two leaders in a South Korean border village, Panmunjom, on April 27 will soon be followed by a peace treaty to replace the more-than-60-year-old truce and crucial talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un for dismantling the latter’s nuclear programme in return for promises to transform the economic profile of the poverty-stricken northern part of the peninsula.

North Korea’s two basic demands – security guarantee through a peace agreement and a clear-cut assurance for financial assistance to promote economic growth – have been taken care of. It has specifically sought large-scale investment, particularly in the development of road and rail networks, which will not be a problem once its nuclear weapon manufacturing facilities are dismantled to instil a sense of confidence in the world community. The South Korean leadership has promised extensive investment in the northern part of the peninsula once the atmosphere of distrust is replaced by a climate of trust and a visible drive for giving primacy to cooperation on all fronts for the ultimate objective of focusing on economic advancement.

The assurance given by the North Korean leader for destroying nuclear weapons and dismantling his country’s nuclear facilities is not doubted this time. President Trump tweeted after the historic summit in the South Korean village: “Good things are happening, but only time will tell!” Fifteen minutes later, he added in an all-caps tweet, “KOREAN WAR TO END!” There is enough indication that he believes the situation in the Korean peninsula will no longer remain what it has been all these years. The US as also the rest of the world are hopeful of the days of tension over the threat from North Korea’s nuclear programme coming to an end.

China, which has always been associated with any kind of talks involving North Korea, seems to have played no role in influencing Mr Kim to go ahead on the road to peace. Yet it has been appreciative of the courage shown by the Korean leaders in reaching their bold decisions. The Chinese state media highlighted the summit as it deserved with the Chinese Foreign Ministry saying that “the new journey” for peace on the Korean peninsula was a welcome development.

The Korean peace process, once it becomes a reality, has an inspiring message for building bridges of understanding and cooperation between India and Pakistan as also between India and China. There are some obvious similarities in the case of India and Pakistan, which once constituted one country along with today’s Bangladesh. They have a common history belonging to the period before 1947, when they won freedom from the British with Pakistan having been carved out of India as a separate independent country. Most of the languages spoken by people on both sides are the same; it can be said at least in the case of Urdu and Punjabi. The two sides have cultural similarities too. But the most significant of all the similarities is the factor of widespread poverty on both sides.

It has to be realized on both sides that since peace and prosperity go together, any compromise that needs to be made must be made for achieving the twin objectives to transform the economic profile of the two neighbours. Their efforts at peace and prosperity will have a cascading effect on the entire South Asian region. The unending enmity between India and Pakistan is the only major reason for the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to get transformed into a powerful bloc like the European Union (EU) benefiting all the member-nations.

Of course, India and Pakistan have made several efforts for bringing about an atmosphere of trust between the two countries but without success. The last peace process which had led to most issues, besides the Kashmir question, getting resolved got derailed by Pakistan-based terrorists when they struck Mumbai in November 2008. The basic idea behind the peace dialogue was promotion of people-to-people contacts, rendering the border or the Line of Control rendering irrelevant. The process was launched during the time of NDA Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but it was showing signs of fruition when Dr Manmohan Singh was heading the UPA government as Prime Minister.

The Korean example shows that peace efforts should never be abandoned, whatever the provocation. If the two Koreas can decide to bury their bitter past forever and begin a new life of peaceful and cooperative co-existence with a common drive for economic growth, India and Pakistan too can do so. It is not impossible. The Narendra Modi government in India and the army calling the shots in Pakistan provided an ideal setting for ending the enmity between the two brotherly nations. What was needed was a vision to create history of a different kind to be appreciated by generations to come. However, visionless elements succeeded in creating an atmosphere of hate and distrust within the country which led to the people’s powerful mandate given to the BJP-led NDA getting wasted.

It must be kept in mind that there is a vast peace constituency spread across both sides of the Indo-Pak divide. But India being the big brother is always expected to take the initiative to ensure that this significant constituency is able to influence the thinking of the masses and the rulers on both sides. In such a situation, the rulers in both countries will feel compelled to take to the path of peace and prosperity.

India and Pakistan may feel tempted to forge friendly relations once India and China find a way to resolve their disputes and normalise their relations in the interest of speedy economic advancement. India and China too can learn a lesson from the two Koreas to write a new chapter on their relations which may compel India and Pakistan to keep their decades’ old bitterness aside and live like caring brothers.

(Published on 07th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 19)