The Kosovan Nightmare
On 17th February 2008, the Assembly of Kosovo unanimously approved a declaration of independence from Serbia. Till date, 48 out of 192 sovereign United Nations member states have formally recognized the Republic of Kosovo, including the US and most of the EU countries.
India, however, had problems. The very next day of this development, an official spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “It has been India’s consistent position that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be fully respected by all states.” In March 2008, Indian ambassador to Serbia, Ajay Swarup pointed out that Kosovo “can set a very dangerous precedent for similar cases around the world.” What really worried India was the implications of the Kosovan development on secessionist issues within its own territory, notably Kashmir for Kosovo shares chilling similarities with it.
Like Kosovo, the majority community in Kashmir, the Kashmiri Muslims, seek independence from India. The Hindus of Kashmir, like the Serbians in Kosovo, are a minority that prefer integration with the larger whole, which would guarantee their interests, to independence. Both are cases of failed integration, consistent discrimination and state violence. What makes Kashmir more poignant is that these crimes are committed by a country that professes to be the world’s largest democracy.
Despite Nehru’s promise as early as November 1947 “to hold a referendum under international auspices such as the United Nations”, the plebiscite was never held. In fact, successive governments in India have resisted the very idea of one. The relative political autonomy guaranteed to Kashmir under Article 370 never happened in practice and elections were heavily rigged by the centre. Dissent was brutally crushed. Such was the repression that in 1966, Janata Dal leader Jayaprakash Narayan, wrote in a letter to Indira Gandhi “We profess democracy, but rule by force in Kashmir…. Kashmir has distorted India’s image in the world as nothing else has done.”
And it was only the repeated failure of democratic process that pushed the people towards armed struggle. Since 1989, when the militant movement for an independent Kashmir gained momentum, over 60000 lives have been lost. There have been numerous cases of atrocities against civilians by the armed forces including harassment, torture, plunder, rape, disappearances and custodial deaths but little has been done to check rights abuses. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows the military to interrogate and kill with impunity.
It should be realized that like former Yugoslavia, India is not a single nation but rather a assemblage of several nations, each having its own distinct ethno-cultural and lingual identity. The hallmarks of a successful multi-ethnic state is the integration of all groups into the political mainstream without the groups having to compromise on their distinct cultural identity. It was violence sanctioned by Serbian majoritarianism and the failure of democratic institutions that legitimized Kosovo’s autonomy. It is high time India checked its own repressive activities in Kashmir and arranged a UN monitored plebiscite to decide Kashmir’s future. The common argument that independent Kashmir cannot sustain itself holds no good as killing people today on the speculation that they may not survive tomorrow makes no sense. Kosovo will remain a nightmare to India till India wakes up to reality.