Category Archives: Gandhi’s Relevance

Major Conflicts in the World Today and Gandhi’s Relevance


Hiroichi Yamaguchi

In the following passages I would like to analyze the cause and nature of  the three major conflicts in the post World War II era, namely the conflicts between the two Koreas, Arabs and Israel, and India and Pakistan and by doing so,to consider the possible role of Gandhian thinking today.

The reason why I look at them as the major conflicts is that,  these have been the world’s trouble spots for the last half a century, have incurred a tremendous waste of resources and human lives, have been mixed up with the Cold War, and are still incapable of an immediate solution.

1. Divided Korea

Let me first take up the Korean Peninsula.

The Peninsula was divided at the 38th Parallel after the Soviet Union was brought into the war against Japan in August 1945.  It was with a purpose of facilitating Japan’s surrender, in the sense that the Japanese south of the line would surrender to the American forces and that north of the line would do so to the Soviet Army.  Very soon, however, both America and the Soviets, brought in an exiled leader of their liking as the head of the government, they established on their side of the line

Was there any way by which the line might not have been drawn dividing the Peninsula in this way? The division could have been avoided if the Japanese had surrendered, namely accepted the Potsdam Declaration issued on July 26 of that year, a little early, say one week, as the Soviets would have had no pretext of declaring war on Japan under the circumstances.  If the margin had been two weeks, instead of one, the two Atomic bombs would not have been dropped, and Japan would have taken the signal credit for a post war world without any experience of nuclear weapons.  It could have been a very different world then, with no horrible accumulation of nuclear weapons, and no deterrence theory.

As a matter of fact, however, the division of the Peninsula took place, and this led to the Korean War, as the war was an attempt to unite both portions by military means.  In subsequent developments marked by US military presence in Korea and Japan, exclusion of the People’s Republic of China from the United Nations, and America’s Vietnam War, Japan and South Korea normalized relations in 1965.  Opposition was mounting in both the countries, as it recognized South Korea as the only lawful government in the Peninsula, thus permanently isolating North Korea, and also it stipulated that Japan would ensure the flow of substantial amount of ODA as well as private fund to South Korea, thus relieving Japan of paying reparation or compensation for what it had done to the Koreans during the colonial period.

Subsequent isolation of the North, economic development and, later, democratization in the South are well known.  What should be stressed here is the Cold War-like situation still persists in the Peninsula at the moment, with the US stationing an infantry division in the South, a marine expeditionary force and a sizable naval force in Japan, while Japanese political establishment is keen on sending her Self Defence Forces abroad.

With the above picture of the Peninsula in view, it was epoch-making that the Prime Minister of Japan made a two-day visit to the North to meet Kim Jon-Il, the Party General Secretary. If the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by the North had not been committed, the North would have made a number of demands to the Japanese government, for compensation, and for helping them out of the present economic crises.  These would probably have made a wake-up call for the Japanese who are not yet fully convinced of the validity of demands for compensation by Asians.

That way the North missed a chance not only for themselves but for many of their fellow Asians.  There is no wonder then that the diplomatic solution between Japan and North Korea has taken the pattern of Japan-South Korea solution of 1965, though it should be apparent that that is a pattern which is incapable of incorporating the voices of people who have suffered for compensation, as the Japanese government is sure to say, as in the case of the South, that the issues have been solved by the settlement.

On top of it came a one more visit to the Yasukuni War Shrine by the Prime Minister, in the face of a strong protest both from inside the country and from China and both Koreas.  This is his third and he openly said after the visit that he will do so once every year.  Probably he has his conservative constituents in mind.  What is particularly intriguing is that among the three million soldiers who are enshrined there, there are fourteen who were convicted at the Tokyo International Tribunal shortly after Japan’s defeat.

Seven of the fourteen were executed, including the General who was Prime Minister when Japan declared war on US and Britain, and another one who was C-in-C in China when the Nanking massacres took place. The Shrine is distributing a booklet which openly says that the Tribunal was a farce and the defendants were not really guilty.  The assumption is that the war was one of liberating Asia from the European or American colonial yokes.  This is indeed the gist of the junior high school history text book which was the topic of so much bitter criticism and debate in 2001.

Japan, as it stands now, is thus not quite capable of being trusted by the Asians, particularly the near-by peoples.  She is not contributing to confidence building in East Asia.  Under the circumstances it is unthinkable for her to discuss the crisis over the possible US attack on Iraq with her neighbours in the region.  On this issue Japan is simply saying that Iraq should comply more fully with the US inspection, implying that if Iraq does not, the US will be justified to attack it unilaterally or otherwise.  As a matter of fact the US is the only country Japan calls an ‘ally’.

Let us quickly look at South Korea. It is in a transition, from the outgoing President Kim, a seasoned politician, who used to call himself a Gandhian when his country was growling under the strong and brutal hand of the military dictatorship, to the incoming much younger Rho, a self-made man, human rights activist, elected mainly on the votes of the younger generations.  Kim expressed sorrow at his last conference with foreign correspondents stating that the Shrine stood as a stumbling block on the way toward better relations with Japan.  On the other hand Rho will continue Kim’s ‘Sunshine policy’ toward the North.  Japan and South Korea co-hosted the World Cup in 2002, which helped to orient the attention of the young Japanese to the Peninsula, particularly the South.  But this is not enough.  The Japanese will have to go several steps forward to meet the Korean mind.

The North, meanwhile, seems to be getting out of hand.  Here we cannot afford to make a mistake, as, according to a Thai political scientist who writes in Nation that it may be the US who has violated the items agreed upon by both in 1994.  Even so, the North should put its explanation before the world.  Otherwise the present seemingly harsh and war-like utterances would only benefit, among others, the essentially conservative political establishment in Japan, and by so doing, help destroy whatever little chances present to build confidence in East Asia.

2. Middle East

There is right now an impending threat of a war, a US or a US-led war against Iraq.  As was the case in the Gulf War, it will in all likelihood reinforce the Israeli position against the Arabs, especially when the Israelis have voted to power again the same elements who are largely responsible for the present tensions between the Palestinians and Israel.  Let us take a look at some of the forces arrayed against those who want war.

As a Japanese I have been impressed by the behaviour of Turkey.  As is well known Turkey is a NATO member and there are US bases in the country.  Nevertheless, she invited the Foreign Ministers of five neighouring countries to Istanbul to discuss ways and means to avert a war crisis, including Syria, currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.  This was after her Prime Minister, who came to the office only recently, made a round of these countries for prior consultation.

If we turn to Europe, we notice here also that a crisis of this magnitude does unfold hitherto latent factors.  Noam Chomsky calls the British Prime Minister as the US Ambassador to the world, who is at some conferences addressed as ‘Mr. Vice-President’, together with seven other countries, declared that they will support US.  More recently ten countries in the former Eastern Europe, constituting the ‘Vilnius Group’, slated to be new members of NATO, also signed a letter to the same effect.

France and Germany, however, the axis of the European reconstruction and reconciliation, Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘old Europe’, have not yielded their ground of opposing the war.  It is reported that the French President have said that war is an admission of failure of diplomacy.  They may have their own reasons for doing so, but that does not matter. While calling our attention to the analogy between this war and the Vietnam War when the US had to fight it alone, as far as Europe was concerned, the Director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris, said that even if opposing the war would mean France would be excluded from the post-Saddam process, that would also open other doors in the Middle East.

     Is Japan capable of opposing the war?  While it is clearly evident that the US is violating the UN Charter which says that a member nation should refrain from ‘the threat or use of force’, and ‘the inherent right of self-defense’ may be exercised only when that nation is attacked?  Clearly Japan is not, as I said before.  Her Ministers are even in touch with their US counterparts to discuss how to proceed with the post-war reconstruction.  These are outstanding attitudes among Asian nations, and I am tempted to agree with Zbigniew Brzezinski when he writes that Japan has neither Germany’s France nor Poland in Asia (The Grand Chessboard, 1997), although I take liberty to differ when he continues to write that Japan therefore has no choice but to lean heavily against the US.

Indeed there is every likelihood that her Asian neighbours would look at Japan not simply unrepentant, as is shown by the War Shrine visits, history textbooks or extreme reluctance to pay compensation, but war-like even now.  True, it is unlikely Japan would help the war effort by sending combat forces.  That is still some way beyond.  But already several warships have been deployed in the Indian Ocean in the name of helping the US and others to fight terrorism.  If we would have to bear some of the war expenditure, as we had after the Gulf War, while Germany would say no to any such US proposal this time, Japan’s reputation as a peace-loving nation would be further tarnished.  There is, however, an encouraging opinion survey which shows only 23% of the Japanese support a war against Iraq, while an overwhelming 68% are against the war.

I look at the crisis as a clash of civilizations.  There is no inevitable link between terrorism and Islam, either.  But the whole Middle East is teeming with socio-economic disparities, political deprivation, endless Palestine-Israeli conflict and the US support to Israel and to some dictatorial regimes.  The war would certainly be expected to make the call of jihad more attractive.  As the Christian Science Monitor writes, ‘The masses in the Islamic world don’t have parties, don’t have parliaments, and they feel besieged in their own countries.  Many of them can’t change their leaders–and yet they see that the US is supporting those regimes’ (November 5, 2002).

This is what Colin Powell completely ignored when he tried to establish the Iraqi regime’s guilt before the Security Council.  The US may say that it is not only dangerous but also undemocratic and brutal one.  But first, the US is not credited for having upheld democracy everywhere, particularly after the Cold War set in.  Rather the US is known to have supported undemocratic regimes in many parts of the world in the name of fighting communism, and even to have toppled some democratically elected governments, in Guatemala, Chile and elsewhere.  Can we take its claim to establish a democratic one in Iraq at its face value?  Everywhere democratization has been realized by the people’s movement and at a cost.

Second, there are enough materials and testimonies on the basis of which we may doubt the credibility of Powell speech.  Scott Ritter says he proved nothing (his interviews in some Japanese newspapers.  See also War on Iraq, by W.R.Pitt with Scott Ritter, 2002).  But suppose Powell is right, does it mean that America may lead a war against Iraq; before it is attacked and apparently without any immediate threat?  It is not in tune with the whole idea of the UN Charter.

The day after Powell spoke, President Bush said that they would take action ‘to defend ourselves, and to disarm the Iraqi regime’.  It is out of question to talk of defense in the absence of an immediate threat.  As for disarming, even if Iraq is found to possess some weapons of mass destruction, the UN inspectors may be trusted to locate them in due course and to destroy them.  The US has put itself above the UN, and does not hesitate to call it useless when it does not comply with her wishes.  When Bush says time is running out he is threatening the UN.  Further, the US is known to have helped Iraq with materials for chemical and biological warfare during the Iran-Iraq War. In this sense Iraq is for US a Frankenstein’s monster, and so is Al-Qaeda, which it helped to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

Third, is there then a hidden motive behind the US mobilization?  Shekhar Gupta writes in Indian Express that the US aim is taking Baghdad so that it may be turned into a foothold for launching a campaign against political Islam(or militant Islam).  This will bring us back to what I said a bit earlier about the discontent in the Middle East.  The above-mentioned article sounds, unfortunately, that it would be of little use to try to say anything against the war in the face of such a long term strategy.

A Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit is almost round the corner.  Hopefully it will play a role in trying to avert a war.  At present South Africa, the incumbent Chair, is vigourously putting the voice of the member countries across the UN.  It shows that, contrary to some popular notion, the NAM is not dead. The African Union, which has replaced the OAU, has also expressed its opposition to a war.

The next Chair will be Malaysia, and here also lies hope because nowadays ASEAN, of which Malaysia is an important member, is sending out startlingly clear messages.  The communiqué of its Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, held at Brunei in July 2002, for example, has called upon the two Koreas, Israel and the Palestinians, and India and Pakistan, respectively, to talk to each other to solve the existing problems in a peaceful manner. Clearly ASEAN is one step ahead.

Then what is the SAARC doing?  It is clear that all the member nations of SAARC will surely be affected in case of a war, but no action is being taken about it.  Not even a meeting is held which is overdue by now.  By so doing SAARC is losing an opportunity to voice its anxieties through one of its members which is currently occupying the seat of a non-permanent member of the Security Council, namely Pakistan.

3. Indo-Pakistan Conflict

Here I would first like to discuss the nuclearization of the two countries which has enhanced the mutual suspicion and animosity even more. Why did they come to possess such dangerous weapons, to begin with?  It seems that after all their national pride has been enhanced, and in their view they have become more reckonable on the stage of world politics.  This is the only point where India and Pakistan meet.  But it may be said that India during the Prime Ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, at least up to the Indo-China War of October, 1962, with relatively a small-sized army, was more reckonable than after Pokharan.

Moreover, the nuclearization has led India and Pakistan to distance themselves from other members of NAM at its latest Johannesburg summit, causing a virtual split on a very vital issue.  This is natural as the nuclear weapons are closely linked to the deterrence theory which is definitely a product of the Cold War and NAM is an antithesis of it.  India and Pakistan have also weakened the support to the anti-nuclear New Agenda group of countries at the UN.  When their proposal for immediate abolition of all the nuclear weapons was put to vote on the floor of the UN, it was opposed by both India and Pakistan, as well as the US, Britain, France and Israel.  Incidentally the group does not include a single Asian country unless you call Egypt that way.  Normally (!) one would be tempted to see India in a group like this.  Is such a feeling a hang-over from the Nehru era?

Japan has often requested India and Pakistan to sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). As far as I know, they have retorted by saying that Japan is under the US nuclear umbrella.  It means that the nuclearization of India and Pakistan has raised a question of tension easing, disarmament and denuclearization not only in the subcontinent, but also across the whole of Asia.  As far as Japan is concerned, it would be only after she has contributed to the easing of tension in her own East Asia, that her arguments can be convincing to India and Pakistan.  The validity of the Japan-US Security Treaty must be called into question on this reason as well.

Then I will discuss Kashmir.  It is indeed noteworthy that free elections have been held there in September to October 2002, in spite of the persistent cross-border terrorism, and the new Chief Minister has been sworn in on November 2.  Forty two percent of the voting rate would have been the most one would have hoped for under the circumstances.  The Kashmir problem should be resolved as soon as possible, as keeping a large army on both sides of the LoC has incurred an unbearably heavy burden on the two countries.  Surely the heavy expenditure on the military, including the weapons of mass destruction, should have long been diverted to the alleviation of poverty. According to a FAO report released in October, 2002, the number of undernourished population in India increased from 2156 lakhs to 2333 lakhs over the past decade, while China decreased its figure by one third.  The New York Times reported on December 2, 2002, that about 350 million Indians go to bed hungry.

The recent elections must be looked at as an opportunity for solving the issue.  The thread must be picked up where it was last seen, namely the inconclusive conversation between the two Prime Ministers at Simla in 1972, which means that the LoC should be earnestly considered as the boundary between the two countries.  The crucial question is how to sell the idea to the general public across the LoC, but once this is done the rest will follow.

May I now come to Gujarat.  The most important sequence of events in India during the past decade, especially after the present Union government came to power, is what happened in Gujarat since February 27, 2002.  It shows the present stage that the Hindu-Muslim relations since the days of Sayyid Ahmed Khan of more than a century ago have reached.  It shows where religious fundamentalism can lead.  In Gandhi’s own State it is difficult to hear his name.  All one hears is the name of Sardar Patel.

The percentage swing was only 4 or 5%, but there was a decisive shift in ‘the violence-wrecked central Gujarat’. Another characteristic feature was that the victory owed much to the ’muscle power’ of the OBCs (other backward classes) who voted en masse for the BJP.   Is this the shape of things to come in India, at the time of every important election?  One is reminded of the Direct Action in the pre-partition days.  The division along the communal lines is a very crude clash of civilizations, such that would suit the Al-Qaeda mentality.

It is said that all this stems from the conflict between Mandal and Mandir, namely, in the face of Mandalization the Mandir issue has been raised with the Rath Yatra as the cornerstone.  However, the integration of the OBCs into the process of Mandir in Gujarat would suggest that Mandal and Mandir are not necessarily antithetic to each other.  The Mandal report does not uphold the position of the elite OBCs.  Rather it stresses the crucial importance of land reform.  Once it is put into practice, there would be complete separation of Mandal and Mandir.  A way to overcome the communal division would then be opened.  Kuldip Nayar wrote in The Indian Express  that the gains of the economic growth in India had percolated only to 10 to 15% of the population.  Such a state of affairs has been a fertile ground for fundamentalism.  A new outlook for development, linked to mass literacy, mass nutrition, mass employment, mass health, environmental preservation and an emphasis on agriculture is called for.  It is here that we turn to Gandhi for some light.

Epilogue:What to learn from Gandhi

Supriya Roy Chowdhury writes in The Hindu that ethical politics has disappeared, Gandhi’s assassination, and that by a Hindu, is not there any more in the textbooks, he was excluded from the national memory, and this is how he is being assassinated.  In spite of this, however, it is still true that at least some people engaged in works such as education, particularly mass literacy, health, environment, empowerment of the weaker sections and women, peace and abolition of nuclear weapons, composite culture, must have given some thought to how Gandhi would have thought of their problems.  There is his influence in the social sciences as well.  I have come to study these aspects of Gandhian thought, namely how his words and deeds may be adapted to today’s world.