Just one month ago, Kim Jong-un was an isolated dictator who had never met with a foreign leader. Friday, after meeting with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, the two leaders of the Korean peninsula announced they will be pursuing a peace treaty and the complete denuclearization of North Korea.
The last summit between North and South Korea took place over a decade ago in 2007. Since the two halves of the Korean peninsula split in 1945, a leader of North Korea has never made a formal visit to the south.
If the peace talks are successful, they could ultimately subvert the decades old status quo in the international arena. Few believed peace and denuclearization could be established in Korea. The surprise talks have opened up questions as to which nations may next be able to resolve their differences.
Like North and South Korea, the Indian subcontinent was also partitioned following the evacuation of colonial rule. The divide has led to decades of tension between India and Pakistan, terror attacks, war, and a nuclear arms race. Could peace talks between India and Pakistan be next?
While some may rush to compare India and Pakistan to North and South Korea, the history of the two partitions are very different.
Korea fell under Japanese colonial rule in 1910. Japanese dominion over the peninsula continued until Japan’s 1945 surrender to the allies, ending World War II. The Iron Curtain is largely thought of as a European construct, but Korea was divided along similar lines. The North fell into the Soviet sphere of influence forcing thousands of Koreans to flee south.
When North and South Korea were partitioned, a nation was divided and families separated as refugees fled communist rule. President Moon’s own parents escaped North Korea aboard a UN supply ship. Koreans have been waiting for decades for family reunification. During the historic announcement, Kim said, “We would like to settle a permanent peace… Using one language, one culture, one history, North and South Korea will be joined as one nation.” The pair also announced that family reunions will commence on August 15th.
India Pakistan Split
Like curry and chai tea, one could argue that the idea of “India” was also a colonial imposition on the culturally diverse region. Once British rule ended what could hold together such disparate groups? With the end of British rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent split largely across religious lines into two separate states, today’s Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Eventually, Bangladesh split from Pakistan in 1971.
The division along religious lines resulted in the displacement of 14 million people and an ensuing refugee crisis, as well as widespread religious violence. Between several hundred thousand and 2 million lives were lost due to the religious conflicts across the Indian subcontinent.
While North and South Korea also fought a bloody war, their differences were largely propelled forward by the imposition of Soviet communism in North Korea and onset of the Cold War. The Korean War began in 1950 with North Korea invading the South to spread communism and reunify the peninsula. The conflict between India and Pakistan is rooted in cultural and religious differences hundreds of years in the making, cemented by decades of terror attacks and violent riots.
As pointed out by Kim Jong-un, Korea shares one culture, language, and history. The same cannot be said in the Indian subcontinent, which is characterized by linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. According to India’s constitution, there are 22 languages officially recognized. Realistically, there are actually hundreds of languages spoken across the country. The situation is similar in Pakistan.
Although religious tolerance is enshrined in India’s constitution, in practice, this isn’t always the case. Nearly 80% of the population practices some form of Hinduism, while 14.2% are Muslim. Outbreaks of violence between Hindus and Muslims are commonplace, further embedding resentment between India and Muslim majority Pakistan. Violence between the two religious groups dates back to the bloody Muslim conquest of India and the Mughal Empire, something Indian historians have not forgotten.
One more reason productive peace summits seem unlikely between India and Pakistan is the dominance of the military in domestic politics in Pakistan. The military in Pakistan has been accused, at home and abroad, of empowering terrorists networks to launch attacks across the border and undermining politicians who seek a more peaceful relationship with India.
In January, the US cut more than $1 billion in funding to Pakistan citing Islamabad’s support of terrorist networks. President Trump took to Twitter to accuse Pakistan of providing safe haven for terrorists. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed these allegations, claiming Pakistan empowers terrorists to stage attacks in India.
Economic Competition & Territorial Disputes
There’s no question that industry in India has exploded in recent decades. According to the World Bank, India has halved the population of people living below the poverty level in the past two decades. Between 1994 and 2012, 133 million people were lifted out of poverty. While India is straining towards the status of world economic power, they see the conflict with Pakistan as draining their resources. Some would even accuse Pakistan of intentionally inciting violence and conflict to sabotage India’s economic growth.
Meanwhile, another Indian competitor, China, has begun a massive economic development project in Pakistan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Not only does this introduce a new level of economic competition, but the project plans to construct transportation networks cutting through the contested territory of Kashmir. Although the planned highway will be built in Pakistan administered Kashmir, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), the area has been contested since 1947. Several wars have been fought in the region between Pakistan and India. Violence between Muslims and Hindus, skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, and terror attacks are still common across the Indian/Pak border in Kashmir.
With both countries possessing enough nuclear warheads to destroy each other many times over, the stakes for peace are high. But, between cultural differences, a history of bloodshed, territorial disputes, and economic competition, peace doesn’t seem to be a possibility anytime soon. However, six months ago, peace and denuclearization on the Korean peninsula seemed unthinkable.