Friday, April 04, 2008

"Settling Partition Hostilities: Lessons Learned, Options Ahead" by Radha Kumar [2]

The first section of Kumar's paper (after the introduction) is entitled "PARTITION AS SOLUTION". Kumar believes this is a fallacy, and she concisely makes a point-by-point argument why this is so.

The first reason, frankly, should be all anyone needs to know:

"First, far from solving ethnic conflict, partition aims have been a motivating element in the descent to war and have stimulated strife more often than ending it. Negotiations towards partition parallel, and usually foreshadow, war."

Owen posted a comment on my previous post asking me to clarify Kumar's chronology for the Indian partition--in this section she says

"The partition of India was proposed in 1940 but pushed through only in 1947, accompanied by a genocidal war in which between 500,000 and a million people died and over 15 million were displaced."

The other four case studies had equally troubled and violent experiences.

The second point:

"...because demography is crucial in defining partitions, they rarely satisfy aspirations for self-determination."

is related to the third:

"...the corresponding point--that population transfers could avoid war and forced migration--begs three points: population transfers will still require force and carry the threat of conflict; they require international intervention...and they are subject to questions of scale."

While hard-nosed practitioners of realpolitik would no doubt be able to dismiss the first objection without losing much sleep, Kumar's second and third points question the practical wisdom of ethnic partition--it neither creates the desired stability nor can it be accomplished without great cost and commitment by the very "international community" which presumably wishes to wash its hands of the issue in the first place.

Such practical concerns--particularly the desire of outsiders to extricate themselves from seemingly intractable conflicts--can only be magnified when considering the fourth point:

"...partitioned lands tend to remain in long-term flux, with both collective and individual security sensitive to even minor irritants..."

and the fifth:

"...a further cause of instability is that ethnic partitions tend to usher in relatively undemocratic states or undemocratic enclaves within democracies."

As if these complicating factors weren't enough, Kumar goes on to point six, in which he concludes that in a globalized, post-Cold War world, ethnic partition no longer remains a viable exit strategy. And in the seventh point, she concludes that modern communications technology means that the same thing is true for containment.

It's a small world, and we cannot box off troubled areas or neatly segregate populations in unstable regions and be done with them.

In the next section: "POST-CONFLICT STABILIZATION AND RECONSTRUCTION"--Kumar notes that any attempt to "move on" without resolving partition-related issues is almost doomed to failure. Factional and party rivalries will impede any effort to advance a diplomatic or legal process. What is more, developing trade and economic ties--a seductive free-trader approach--is no panacea, either. It is nearly impossible to force the development of trade and investment across a partitioned border.

One problem--familiar to anyone who follows events in the Balkans--is that partition tends to weaken political parties and civil institutions, to the benefit of criminal and paramilitary elements.


Kumar's paper goes on to consider aspects of peace negotiations, and concludes with a consideration of some of the possible benefits of considering these case studies. In the case of Bosnia, what is most germane is that Kumar recognizes--and states unequivocally--that ethnic partition fails as a workable, just, or lasting solution to ethnic conflict.

With this important premise stated, I will begin my review of her book on Bosnia shortly.


Anthony said...

Parition is often problematic. As I noted in my comment to the earlier post, you neever get the broader right and people start fighting over the border.

In fairness though, you can also look at what happened in some places where there was no partition. In Iraq now, partition seems to be off the table. The result is that the Sunnis are trying to hold one to something, the Shia are fighting to gain the power they feel was deined to them by successive Sunni based governments, and the Chaldeans and Assyrians are getting massacred or leaving. (The Kurds by all accounts are doing the smart thing and making money off of $100/barrel oil prices). As an aside, I am not advocating partitioning Iraq (though I do think a federal Iraq is a better answer).

Looking at other places not partitioned, there is Turkey. After WWI, the Turks fought hard to avoid paritioning the remainder of the country. The result was that the Greeks were massacred or left, and no one is really happy with the Kurdish situation (though the solution there is a democratic Turkey)

As an American, it is tough for us to understand as "Americanism" is not based on blood but on acceptance. My family has been here only for about 100 years yet I consider myself American. Can a Kurd consider himself Turkish? Can a Serb consider himself Kosovar?

I would like to think the answer is democratic federalism, but if membership in "la patrie" is based on ancestry and blood (no mater how mythical), can it work in reality?

And partition cannot always be bad. Should we be pushing for the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Ottomans to return? Of course not. But given that what we are seeing in a way is the end of 500 years of empires, some changes in borders is necessary. That means some areas will be paritioned.

Katja R. said...

I agree about partition being a bad idea, it is the COWARD'S 'solution'! It never works when it is tried. Federalization can work if it is done right, if you have honest politicians and not a lot of reasons for people to hate each other.
The problem here is like all post-Socialist/Communist settings, there are corrupt politicians and very few laws to hold them in check. The minute they get caught, they start in on hate speak, and that is the end of dealing with them.
A person from the Indian sub-Continent would be well aware of the economic damage partition does too.
The people of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all worse off because of partition!
WAY worse off! India is coming into it's own some ways but it would have been a world power on a par with China if it weren't for partition. Maybe that is WHY partition was done in that case?

Anonymous said...

1940 is when Jinnah began pressing for partition. If Kumar's saying that partition was pushed through in 1947 he seems to be suggesting that it was the solution that the colonial power chose to impose on the country. But it seems unlikely that Jinnah would have reached an accommodation with the Congress Party. Kumar seems to be suggesting that the British took a decision in 1947 that could have been avoided. Or am I misinterpreting him?

Whatever the colonial power's earlier responsibility for encouraging division, it's not clear that separation and the genocidal violence that accompanied it could have been avoided once the rifts between the Muslim League and the Congress Party consolidated in the 1930s. The violence of 1946 and the confrontation of the Direct Day of Action were surely a signal that partition was politically inevitable. The alternative would seem to have been the outbreak of a civil war with the British drawn in as an ultimately impotent third party who would eventually have pulled out after complicating the conflict and perhaps exacerbating it.

So perhaps there's a point at which partition becomes unavoidable even when it's not going to do anything to resolve the problem, the mistakes have already been made.

A lot of mistakes have been made in Iraq but hopefully partition isn't yet inevitable and a federal solution is still possible. Even if federalism only works as an interim solution it might make a peaceful separation possible without mass population displacement.