The happenings in Kashmir in South Asia and the fragile peace on the other end of the Asian continent — the Korean peninsula — may not be interlinked, but the principal actors in destabilising the global peace in these two regions are all close allies: Pakistan, China and North Korea.
On 9 September, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on the occasion of its “founding day,” marking the country’s second nuclear test this year. The previous test was conducted on 6 January. As The Economic Times reported on Tuesday, the North Korean test has alarmed the Indian security establishment because it is suspected to be a plutonium-based device, something on which India had greater expertise than Pakistan, North Korea’s closest partner in making nuclear weapons and missiles. Pakistan’s nuclear programme, otherwise, has been marked hitherto by the Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) route. Of course, China has played the historic role of the facilitator in developing this Pakistan-North Korea nexus.
This North Korea-China-Pakistan “triangle” has some interesting features that deserve to be highlighted. First, all the three countries are “divided countries” — India-Pakistan, China-Taiwan and North Korea-South Korea. And all these three countries are not yet reconciled to the partition. China wants to grab its so-called renegade province of Taiwan. North Korea demands the reunification of the Korean peninsula that “must” have “communist rule”. For Pakistan, the partition is an unfinished agenda without Kashmir. In fact, the state-sponsored jihadis in Pakistan go further in dreaming the Pakistani flag-flying at Delhi’s Red Fort.
The second common feature is that while the regimes in India, Taiwan and South Korea happen to be democratic and have always extended hands of friendships to their neigbours who got the mother country divided, their offers are, more often than not, being rebuffed in some form or the other. And coincidentally, all three — North Korea, China and Pakistan — are deeply authoritarian countries, firmly controlled by their respective militaries. On paper, Pakistan might have been a democratic country at times, but substantially it is a country where the military rules supreme. No wonder Pakistan is called an army with a country, not a country with an army. As regards North Korea and China, it does not need any elaboration that the Communist rule there is firmly entrenched not because of the popular approval but because of the ruling communist parties’ hold over their respective militaries.
The third common feature is that all these countries happen to possess nuclear weapons, deadly missiles, and other weapons of mass destructions (WMD). They not only possess them but have emphatically declared to use them, showing utter disdain to the concept of responsibility. This is particularly true in the case of Pakistan and North Korea, despite the fact that their economies remain extremely precarious. The process of development in the two countries remains extremely lopsided, with the military or military-related things consuming most the national wealth. In case of Pakistan, the country’s economy is totally dependent on foreign help and IMF loans, without which it will collapse in no time. In the case of North Korea, lesser said the better.
In order to tide over their economic crises, both Pakistan and North Korea seem to be on a suicidal path of blackmailing the world to listen to them and finance them, lest they use their weapons of mass destruction, that is, nuclear arms, technologies and missiles, in various forms, including selling them illegally to other states. Pakistan has an added “strength” for blackmailing — training terrorists and spreading terrorism all over the world. And in all this both North Korea and Pakistan have the protection of China. In short, all the three are threatening to be the sources of global proliferation of WMD and terrorism, hence global instability.
The fourth common feature, which, in a sense, is the corollary of the third one, is that there is a close nexus among all the three countries in their respective developments of the WMD. With the Chinese help, Pakistan and North Korea have been helping one another in their respective armaments since early 1970s. Now the situation has reached a point that it is an open secret that Pakistan is transferring nuclear weapons technology to North Korea. In return, North Korea is helping Pakistan by supplying missiles and related technologies. It all began in 1971 when Pakistan requested North Korea to provide artillery, multiple rocket launchers, ammunition and a variety of spare parts. This relationship took a big turn in the 1980s in the field of ballistic missile cooperation.
It was the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s that provided the best chance for Pakistan and North Korea to work together in the missile fields. Engineers and contractors form both the countries worked closely in Iran on developing that country’s missiles. They got attractive remunerations from Teheran, which wanted to catch up with Baghdad in the field of missiles. These contacts between the Pakistanis and North Koreans, aided by their political establishments, resulted in the subsequent establishment of nuclear and ballistic missile related cooperation that included North Korean selling of mining and drilling equipments for missiles to Pakistan, cooperative covert programmes to acquire nuclear and missile technologies from Germany and Pakistani provision of nuclear technology to North Korea. The notorious Pakistani nuclear engineer AQ Khan played a leading role in this process. This nexus was subsequently the route for proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies to Iran and Libya (under late Gaddafi).
In all this, China had a big role to play. China helped North Korea to develop its missile capacity. And China assisted Pakistan in building its nuclear prowess (weapons-grade uranium, uranium enrichment process and ultracentrifuge uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta). Subsequently, Pakistan and North Korea exchanged their respective expertise, which was basically acquired from China (AQ Khan deviated a bit by stealing technologies from the West).
It may be noted here that when all this was going on, it was not that the Western world, particularly the United States, did not know it. In their book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, Adrain Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, award-winning investigative journalists, have provided details on how AQ Khan stole, with full American knowledge, nuclear material and technologies from the Western countries, including the US. Be it Ronald Reagan or George Bush (father) or Bill Clinton or George W Bush — every American president and his officials not only concealed but also helped Pakistan in making and improving the bomb.
...the nexus of Pakistan-China-North Korea endangers the security of India, South Korea, Japan and a galaxy of Southeast Asian nations in the broad Indo-Pacific region
In fact, the Reagan Administration ignored US intelligence reports in 1983 and 1984 that China provided Pakistan the design for a low-yield uranium device, akin to its fourth series of nuclear tests in 1964. President Reagan, instead, certified, as per the requirement to get the approval of the Congress for aid to Pakistan, that Islamabad did not have a nuclear weapon programme! He was successfully blackmailed by Pakistan that otherwise it would not only go ahead with its nuclear programme openly and not assist the war against the then Soviets in Afghanistan. This Pakistani blackmail continues even today for the American largesse. In the process, America has forgiven all the sins of Pakistan and AQ Khan, despite the fact, as pointed out by Levy and Clark, that “a mountain of incredibly precise intelligence portrayed Pakistan as the epicentre of global instability: a host and patron for Islamist terrorism, ruled by a military clique that was raising capital and political influence by selling weapons of mass destruction.”
Likewise, North Korea has mastered its nuclear and missile capabilities as a bargaining chip to secure political, security and economic incentives from the rest of the world, most notably the United States. Because nobody wants to take a chance of its misadventures against South Korea and Japan. Kim-Jong-un, like his late father Kim Jong-il, gets economic assistance for not developing nuclear weapons and missiles, but after getting the assistance he breaks the promise with more nuclear and missile tests. And then begins yet another round of international deliberations that result in even more aid and assistance to the communist nation. Korean scholar Young Wehan Kihi aptly describes the above scenario as an example of “the Mouse that Roared”. In this, the “Lion”, that is, the United States, plays out a beleaguered role, allowing the “mouse”, that is, North Korea, to make a clever strategic move.
But then, the overall systematic consolidation of the Pakistan-China-North Korea nexus signifies a bigger point. As we are witnessing how the Delhi-based dominant intelligentsia wants the Government of India to surrender to the secessionist and Islamic terrorists in the Kashmir valley, the so-called liberal-internationalists in the global stage are trying harder and harder to make more and more compromises with this nexus. They do not realise that if hard power fails, all these talks of human rights and noble speeches about the “international community” will be nothing but hot air. These soothsayers do not realise that the nexus of Pakistan-China-North Korea endangers the security of India, South Korea, Japan and a galaxy of Southeast Asian nations in the broad Indo-Pacific region.