Bangalore, Feb 15: One of the leaders of our western neighbour had once said that his countrymen would eat grass but yet won't give up the dream to acquire a nuclear weapon if India had acquired one. He said his country would fight, and fight for a thousand years! Bhutto perished but Pakistan indeed had acquired its own N-bomb and succeeded in engaging the arch-rival, much stronger in many other respect, in an indecisive battle.
Nearly half a century has passed since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made his immortal demagoguery. The voice for democracy and peace has strengthened in this world in all these years but yet, the language of absolute power hasn't changed. North Korea recently carried out its third nuclear test (after 2006 and 2009) defying all concerns of the international community and showed it was determined to take on the mighty powers even though it is a backward state where people have been suffering from extreme hardships.
Reports say that while 10,000 people died of starvation in the country ruled by an authoritarian regime, severe hunger was pushing people to resort to cannibalism. This is not something new in history. Stalinist Russia and Mao's China, too, had witnessed such situation in the earlier part of the 20th century. The problem with North Korea is since it is severely isolated from the rest of the world, arriving at a quick solution for the pressing humanitarian issue will be a difficult task.
The uniqueness of the North Korean case is that it is perhaps the only country in the world today which is yet to come out of the shadow of the Cold War, which got over over two decades ago. Pyongyang had been backed by the former Soviet Union after the end of the Korean War against the West-backed South Korea and it is still maintaining its hostile isolation vis-a-vis the West, even after the collapse of the USSR. From Kim Il-Sung to Kim Jong-un, the tradition of isolation, authoritarianism and anti-West tirade is continuing and no caution from the USA has succeeded in derailing Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear ambition.
India worried over Pak-China-N Korea axis
Instead, North Korea has found a new ally in China in the post-USSR days and Beijing has been treating Pyongyang as a strategic ally in its duel against the West. Allegations have also been made that the latest nuclear test carried out by North Korea had also the backing of Pakistan.
The Islamabad-Beijing-Pyongyang axis has been causing India much anxiety. The latter, on the other hand, is a strategic ally of the USA in its greater ambition in the Asia-Pacific along with other allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia. Hence, whether the common North Koreans live or not, the rulers of the country are by no means going to abandon its adoration of absolute power with considerable backing from outside.
China has to play a well-balanced game
However, a nuclear North Korea would not be a happy news for China for it might lead to a nuclear race in its vicinity and affect the stability in East Asia. Beijing backs North Korea just because it wants to keep the Koreas divided which would allow North Korea to continue as a buffer between it and the westernised South Korea.
China saved the day for North Korea by sending cheap foodgrain and also established as the largest trading partner of Pyongyang to keep its strategic interests alive. But militarily, a stronger North Korea would put the Chinese foreign policy thinkers under much stress. The flow of refugees from North Korea into its territory is also not something the Chinese would be comfortable to deal with.
But the irony is that at the end of the day, it is China which is best placed to effect a change in the situation in North Korea. For, the way the carefree North Korean rulers are going, it would not be a surprise if the entire country implodes and collapses. The spill-over effect of the crisis would be felt in Beijing more than anybody else. China would hence try desperately to convince Pyongyang to share the negotiation table with the West and other countries to allow so that the preferred status quo is maintained.
The days of Bhutto are history. Pyongyang should learn it fast.