Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Settling Partition Hostilities: Lessons Learned, Options Ahead" by Radha Kumar [1]

I've been perusing a collection of essays entitled The Fate of the Nation State, edited by Michael Seymour. The essay referenced in the title to this post is especially relevant to the Bosnian situation.

Kumar has written an entire book on the issue of Bosnian partition, Divide and Fall?: Bosnia in the Annals of Partition, which I intend to begin reviewing in a few days. As preparation for that project, I thought it would be appropriate to consider this paper. As opposed to the book, which focuses on Bosnia, this paper is a comparative study of several different examples of ethnic partition. Kumar is attempting to study the phenomena of ethnic partition in and of itself.

She first defines her terms, stating (convincingly, in my opinion) that the secession of an administrative unit from a country is not an example of partition. Partition creates new borders; furthermore, when new borders are drawn to create a "mononational" unit out of a multinational unit, or in order to demarcate between different ethnic, national, or religious groups, then we can speak of ethnic partition.

It is of critical importance to note whether the area seceding is largely mono-ethnic or not; the potential for violence is low if it is, but if a new state is carved out of a multi-ethnic area the potential for violence is very high. Any effort to create a monoethnic state in a multiethnic area inevitably involves forced displacement.

The fact is that the ideal situation rare; partition almost always entails violence and instability, which often linger long after the bloody work of drawing new borders in demographic realities has been finished. Putting aside the high cost in human suffering that partitioning requires, why do the resulting states and societies find themselves stuck in cycles of instability and violence? Kumar's paper explores these questions:

"One aim of this essay is to draw up a checklist of lessons from older partitions for present-day policy options in ethnic conflicts; the other is to see what light the list sheds on current partition-related peace processes."

Kumar notes that until recently, there had been no generalized debate on the subject of partition itself; nearly all the existing literature had been on a case-by-case basis, without considering the underlying issue in a broader context. The Dayton Agreement ending the Bosnian War changed that, and now the subject is receiving long overdue attention.

Unfortunately, this attention seems to be founded on some dubious premises. Kumar notes that

"Partition advocates adopt British colonial arguments for partition rather than Woodrow Wilson's formulae for self-determination. The colonial stance advocated the creation of ethnic states by territorial division, as a lesser evil to potential genocide. In practice, however, partition became an exit strategy ("divide and quit" in the words of the British historian and civil servant Penderel Moon) rather than a response to the needs and desires of the affected people."

Noting that the genocide in India and Pakistan didn't break out until after partition was agreed on, Kumar dryly notes that this philosophy did serve as a useful exit strategy for a British government keen to wash its hands of its empire quickly. She then adds that in a post-Cold War era, partition might not even be able to serve this limited (and morally dubious) function.

The five cases she considers in this paper are the partition conflicts in Ireland, the Indian subcontinent, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Cyprus and Yugoslavia. I will continue my review of his paper in my next post.


Anthony said...

I thought I would stop by -- I have not been here for a while.

The real problem is that true partition is impossible -- no matter how you draw the line, people, maytbe a large number of people, will end up on the "wrong" side of the line.

I am not sure how you handle it in the Balkans, but while I am a believer in the nation state and I tend to be an advocate for the US staying out, I do think that those broders should not be viewed as inviolate. Hitchens in his essay on Kosovo had a point, the transfer of those areas were in teh context of a confused war that ended with a new and now defunct entity Yugoslavia, having soveriegnty, not Serbia.

But the whole thing is a mess.

Owen said...

At what point does Kumar consider that the decision was taken? You could argue that by the time it was formally decided the partition of colonial India was unavoidable and it was only the scale of the genocide that was left to be worked out. Gandhi had worked since the 1930s to prevent the separation of Muslims and Hindus and his efforts resulted in his assassination.