Can India and Pakistan draw inspiration from Korean peacemaking?

Can India and Pakistan draw inspiration from Korean peacemaking?
6 min read
07 May, 2018
Comment: An independent Kashmir could minimise military confrontation between rivals India and Pakistan, and aid the process of denuclearisation, writes Umar Lateef Misgar.
India's first cruise missile, 'Nirbhay' or 'fearless', is capable of carrying nuclear weapons [Getty]
On April 27 last month, the world woke up to spectacular scenes of the premiers of North and South Korea embracing each other near the fortified border dividing the two countries.

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in later signed a comprehensive peace declaration that was hailed as a historic document on the path towards permanent peace in the Korean peninsula.

The Panmunjom Declaration, named after the border village where it was signed, covered a broad spectrum of issues including humanitarian, political, military as well as nuclear.

The ambitious document met with jubilation across international diplomatic circles.

A long way off from threatening North Korea with "fire and fury", US president Donald Trump, in a self-congratulatory tone called it a proud moment. All other regional players including China, Japan and Russia also welcomed the development.

Thanks to this timely act of bold leadership, the critical threat of all-out war as well as a possible nuclear confrontation in Korean peninsula has been averted, at least for now.

Although multiple spoilers are looming in the horizon, particularly Trump's much anticipated summit with Kim Jong-un this summer, the declaration serves as a precedent on how open-minded diplomacy could bring forth positive results between the bleakest of rivals.

The declaration serves as a precedent on how open-minded diplomacy could bring forth positive results between the bleakest of rivals

Further west in the same region, another risk of an all-out nuclear war cannot however be entirely ruled out.

India and Pakistan - bitter rivals since the decolonisation and subsequent partition of Indian subcontinent 70 years ago -  have also been locked in a military conflict of varying intensities.

The two nuclear-armed neighbours regularly exchange heavy artillery across their tense borders and are also engaged in acts of covert warfare against each other. The face-off has led to a steady loss of civilian as well as combatant lives. In recent times, the rivalry has spilled into Afghanistan, an already fragile state.

Moreover, the economic costs of this seemingly endless confrontation cannot be understated. Besides incurring military expenses that run into billions of dollars annually, the bilateral trade between the two economies has remained highly restricted.   

Although there have been multiple attempts to resolve the longstanding disputes between the two countries, the most recent dialogue process ended abruptly with the horrific Mumbai attacks of 2008, the blame for which New Delhi was quick to pin on Pakistan. Since then, no significant strides have been made towards lasting reconciliation.

However, the recent peace deal in Korea could prove to be an essential framework for jumpstarting the virtually dead peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad. The broad scope of issues covered by the declaration is shares many similarities with the India-Pakistan scenario.

The leader of nuclear-armed North Korea Kim Jong Un and the South's President Moon Jae-in said they were
committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula after a historic summit on April 27, [AFP]

The most noteworthy part of Panmunjom Declaration is the intent for establishment of a peace regime through multilateral engagements involving China and the United States.

As demonstrated by the Iran nuclear deal, arbitrary withdrawal from a multilateral agreement becomes complicated in the event of a policy shift by any individual state party. 

Beijing and Washington, along with other members of P5+1 could play a pivotal role in bringing forth a negotiated settlement of disputes between India and Pakistan. More crucially, China's ambitious Belt and Road initiative is bound to benefit from New Delhi's inclusion into the China-Pakistan axis, and bring forth greater regional integration.

A significant easing of tensions could also pave the way for a gradual denuclearisation of the Indian subcontinent

The humanitarian issues between India and Pakistan also remain unresolved.

Thousands of families across the border
remain divided, with extremely limited opportunities to visit each other. One of the commendable features of Panmunjom Declaration is its primary focus on reuniting divided families across the Korean Armistice Line.

Cultural exchanges between the people have the potential to dramatically defuse tensions among rival nations. Like in Korea, the people of India and Pakistan share similar cultural legacies and historical experiences. As a result, regular contact will prove to be a crucial element in any reconciliation process between the two nations.

The Korean leaders were also perceptive in realising the downsides of demonising propaganda vis-à-vis peace processes and ordered the immediate closure of all propaganda mechanisms near the Armistice Line.

Across India and Pakistan, state as well as corporate media houses broadcast a toxic mix of jingoism and pro-war programming each night. In the name of national interest, anti-war stances are repackaged as anti-national agendas. Rational voices are often are berated or even censored.

TV presenters, not unlike official spokespersons, blame the neighbouring country for all that is wrong within its borders.

This in turn increases popular hostility and appetite for a serious military conflict. However, media establishments in both countries have a responsibility to objectively report and analyse news rather than serve as propagandists for their governments.

The central point of contention between the two countries is over the territory of Kashmir.

The recent peace deal in Korea could prove to be an essential framework for jumpstarting the virtually dead peace process

While both claim the territory in full, they only administer parts of it. India and Pakistan regularly confront each other at international forums over this issue, and have fought three wars to take total control of this region.

In recent times however, the population in Kashmir has been increasingly disillusioned with the idea of merging with either of the two states, and instead favouring total independence.

This scenario would present a unique opportunity for India and Pakistan to create a neutral buffer-zone in the form of an independent state of Kashmir, consequently minimising military confrontation between the two. 

This proposition becomes more urgent when we look at the unnecessary loss of life due to escalating militarisation and conflict in Kashmir, particularly in the part controlled by India. So far in 2018, at least one person has been killed every day in Indian-controlled Kashmir, including 51 individuals in April.

In view of this deadly violence, a resolution in Kashmir must start as soon as possible, with a complete demilitarisation of both parts, followed by an internationally-monitored popular referendum.

A significant easing of tensions could also pave the way for a gradual denuclearisation of the Indian subcontinent.

Currently, at least two billion people remain at the risk of
total starvation in the event of even a limited nuclear exchange between the two countries. Both nations are reeling from sustained energy crises and a focus on civilian nuclear energy rather than the military one could be the answer to this quandary.       

However, the path towards peace between India and Pakistan has to commence with bold political vision and an open mind. Any diplomatic moves that are preconditioned with the sole purpose of satiating domestic electoral incentives are bound to fail.

Panmunjom Declaration demonstrated that, with the right will and intentions, even a dictator can reach a negotiated peace with the starkest of his rivals. The time is ripe for the so called democrats to prove the same.      

Umar Lateef Misgar is a political analyst focusing on Kashmir and the Middle East. His work has appeared in The Independent, Truthout.org, London School of Economics Human Rights Centre blog, and elsewhere.

Follow him on Twitter: @Kaashur

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.