A Kosovar Wasp’s Nest for Asia
With its encouragement and then acceptance of Kosovo’s independence, the major western countries have opened a huge can of worms, setting themselves at odds not only with Russia and Serbia but much of the rest of the world, Asia in particular. With many countries in Asia having significant sectarian issues, most will either come out openly against recognizing Kosovo, or just quietly fail to do so.
The US and the major European powers, Germany, Britain and France, appear to have barely thought about the wider consequences of giving birth to a mini-state (population 2 million) with an aggrieved Serb minority supported by Serbia backed by Russia. In their myopia, the western nations seem to have believed that this was just an issue about the organization of European borders, forgetting about broader global implications. They also seem to have forgotten their history of this corner of the world where western Christendom meets both eastern Christendom and Islam.
The western leaders also seem to have ignored the consequences for the European Union itself, which is now divided, with Spain, Romania and Cyprus opposing recognition of Kosovo for fear that it sets an example their own troublesome minorities may emulate. Spain has its Basque and Catalan independence movements, Romania, a large Hungarian minority and Cyprus is already divided — Turkey might reasonably ask why Kosovo is being recognized and not Turkish North Cyprus.
Albanian Kosovo represents yet another subdivision of the Balkans, a geographical region that a century ago was ruled by two empires, Austro-Hungary and Turkey, and is now home to a dozen sovereign states, some, like Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia very small.
The countries of Asia and Africa, most of whose borders were set by the European and Russian empires that preceded independence, naturally worry about whether they are now going to come under pressure to be subdivided to meet the aspirations of various ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.
Sri Lanka was the first Asian nation to condemn Kosovar independence — not surprising given that this could give new impetus to the struggle for a separate Tamil state. Sri Lanka’s northern Tamil region arguably has a stronger case for independence than Kosovo.
Indonesia, currently a member of the Security Council, is unlikely to side with Kosovo given its own concerns about national unity in Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere. Although some Muslim parties have urged recognition on grounds of religious solidarity with Kosovo’s Muslims, the view that this is more of a danger to the national unity of a multi-religious state is likely to prevail.
China has expressed concern, doubtless worried about separatism in Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as the implications for the status of Taiwan. India may well feel the same way. Although it does not face any major secessionist movement, it does have sectarian problems in the northeast and in Kashmir even as its de-centralized, multilingual nature acts as a cushion. A separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka might well have long term implications for unity, especially in Kashmir, which opt for independence rather than being part of either India or Pakistan
As for Pakistan, it is fragile enough already, given separatist sentiments in Baluchistan and the affinity of the Pushtuns of the Northwest Frontier and tribal areas with their Afghan cousins.
Of course there are circumstances where border changes or break-ups are desirable. Singapore was peacefully expelled from Malaysia. Timor Leste re-emerged after a failed Indonesian attempt to integrate the colony, which was left in the lurch by Portugal in 1975. The new micro-state is a mess but independence was likely the only viable option. Ethiopia grudgingly accepted the independence of Eritrea after years of civil strife. The Soviet empire disintegrated into constituent parts big and small. Bangladesh (one of Asia’s most homogenous states) emerged from the artificial construct of a Pakistan with two unequal wings.
But seldom if ever in the past 60 years has a new state come into being in such controversial circumstances as Kosovo, with such little forethought and in the face of widespread reluctance by major nations to accept such a fait accompli.
It is perhaps typical of George W Bush’s government, where ignorance of small far away places is profound and where they believe there is merit in needling Russia. But the attitudes of Britain and France, both countries that have been sensitive to Serbia’s position and conscious of the complexity of Balkan affairs, are more surprising. But they all backed a plan by a UN-appointed Finnish Special Envoy Maarti Ahtisaari that in effect provided the justification for Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
Unfortunately Ahtisaari appears to have come at this from a very narrow, short-term perspective, neither recognizing the implications of an independent Kosovo nor proposing the more logical solution, albeit one also opposed by Serbia, of dividing the province between Albania and Serbia.
While his well-meaning recommendation of independence should not have been allowed to pass in the face of such major opposition, in the process making a global issue of what had been of limited concern outside the immediate neighborhood.
As it is, the world now has another bifurcated state which at best half the world will recognize. Indeed this is such a mess that the major states of Asia should consider a united front against recognition.