There has been a great misnomer about the DPRK (North Korea) which claims that anti-American state media has been used to secure the seemingly absolute power of Kim Il-sung’s family over the state, ever since the DPRK was founded in 1948. What this theory fails to convey is that whilst the DPRK has a socialist constitution and economy, it is not a traditional Marxist-Leninist state, a Maoist state, nor a revisionist communist state – nor has it ever been any of these things. Using Soviet style Marxist-Leninism as a starting off point, Kim Il-sung instead formulated his political idea known as Juche and this is the philosophy that continues to govern the country.
Just as China has followed the path of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a new era, in many respects, Juche is a form of state socialism that heavily draws from ancient Korean traditions which place a supreme value on respect for one’s elders, those descended from prominent elders and an orderly chain of command. Even though South Korea has a very different political system from the North, modern South Korea shares some similar cultural characteristics with the DPRK, which have influenced the politics of South Korea. This can help explain why for example, Park Chung-hee’s daughter Park Geun-hye was elected president decades after her father’s infamous assassination.
In this sense, it has never required anti-Americanism to enshrine the Kim family’s power in the DPRK. This reality is instead derived from the Juche idea whose Korean cultural foundations predate the founding of the United States. What is true is that during the Cold War, anti-American sentiments in official state media helped to remind young generations of the blatant war crimes that the US led UN troops committed in Korea between 1950 and 1953. An official state line of anti-Americanism also helped to bolster the DPRK’s ties with fellow stridently leftest nations, including the neighbouring USSR.
However, after 1991, the end of the Cold War hit the DPRK’s economy particularly hard. The gradual imposition of many sanctions from the US, combined with the decline of Russian power, served to economically isolate the country. As such, anti-Americanism served to demonstrate that much of these economic problems were the fault of the US using sanctions as an act of prolonged war against the country.
Today, things are very different in the DPRK. Even prior to the current peace process, Kim Jong-un’s economic reforms had helped to expand domestic living standards, whilst the food shortages of the 1990s have long been a distant memory. Now that Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump are actively engaging in dialogue as today sees the beginning of their second ever face-to-face summit, the streets and television screens of teh DPRK are displaying noticeably less anti-American material but instead, DPRK citizens are being greeting with pro-peace images which stress unity and fraternal relations with fellow Koreans in the South.
Whilst the peace process is not over (some would say it is far from over) and whilst the cultural characteristics, unity and political discipline of the DPRK have remained intact -dialogue nevertheless prevails.
And thus, one arrives at Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s calls for dialogue with India, so as to avoid an escalation in current tensions between the nuclear armed neighbours. Like the DPRK which is guided by the Juche idea, Pakistan is an Islamic Republic shaped primarily by the sacred words of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and on the worldly ideals of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Recently, both Pakistan’s Islamic characteristics and the political thought of Jinnah have been revived for a new era in the form of Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan).
As such, no matter who Pakistan negotiates with and no matter the outcome, the goals and characteristics of the Pakistani state remain consistent, because Pakistan has a clear identity which serves a clear purpose – just as is the case with Kim’s DPRK.
In respect of India, the place that is now the Republic of India has been home to millennia of great civilisations and yet, today’s Indian government is defining India more by what the BJP rejects than by what it embraces. The BJP’s cultural cleansing of India’s long history of Islamic cultures and political sovereigns has seen the current government create a sectarian narrative about what it means to be Indian. In a multicultural country like India, this is especially dangerous.
Whilst much smaller than India, in the 1960s, Singapore was at risk of collapsing in the face of race riots. To avoid such sectarianism from destroying Singapore, founding father Lee Kuan Yew worked to simultaneously create a society in which all people had equal economic and educational opportunities in spite of their family background, whilst simultaneously working to establish a modern pan-Singaporean identity that stressed civil unity, whilst allowing people to maintain their family traditions.
In theory, India’s constitution guarantees the full civic rights to all people irrespective of their religious, ethnic or caste identity. And yet, these provisions of India’s constitution have been utterly decimated by a BJP government which insists on a mythical narrative of Hindutva supremacy which pits high caste families against Dalits, Hindus vs. Muslims, Sikhs vs Hindutva nationalists and north versus south.
Because of this, the only way to define the BJP’s version of India in a manner that fosters any unity is by defining India by that which it opposes: Pakistan and in other instances, China.
Such a political reality makes the kind of dialogue that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are currently engaged in, rather more difficult to achieve. Clearly, such dialogue is not impossible and as Imran Khan correctly stated, is clearly preferable to hostility and war. But in order to achieve this, the BJP will have to quietly roll back its jingoistic electioneering in which “fighting Pakistan” has become a de facto manifesto pledge designed to make people forget about internal sectarianism, the demonetisation disaster, declining conditions for farmers, a major wealth gap between rich and poor and the Rafale deal controversy.
In this sense, whilst Pakistan should continue to seek dialogue, Pakistan should also be aware that whilst Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump’s dialogue helps to demonstrate that “anything is possible” – nevertheless, the internal conditions that prepared the DPRK for dialogue with the United States, are vastly different than the internal conditions of India – conditions which make the country ill-prepared for genuine peace talks.