This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

How To Avoid Seccessionist Violence

Unless you’ve been living under a stone, you know all there is to know by now about South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Kosovo and probably Kashmir as well. 

You probably have also heard of Uighur separatists in China, Baloch separatists in Pakistan, Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, the South Sudanese separatist groups, and maybe even the Naga and other separatist groups in North East India. Maybe you even heard of the US Civil War – have you? 

So much violence in so many nations, all for separate nationhood to various disaffected sections.

Let’s not make a mistake – any multi-ethnic, or not necessarily multi-ethnic, nation is prone to secessionism. It may be a democracy (such as the Quebecois in Canada or the Basques in Spain), a “democracy” (such as Kashmir and the North Eastern states of India), an authoritarian state (like the Karens of Myanmar) or an “authoritarian” state (like Chechnya in Russia) – but all of them have been at the receiving end of secessionism. And in most instances said secessionism has been violent, and therefore, in the long run, most of them are doomed to failure. (I am not talking here of out-and-out anticolonialist movements, but of secession from a recognised nation.) But doomed or not, it doesn’t stop them from trying, and in every case it is that nation as a whole that suffers.

Is there any way out of this cycle?

I believe, actually, that there is. 

Every one of these countries that face secessionism have no provision for actual secession; they can allow nations to join, but they will do anything to prevent them leaving and going their separate ways (as I’ve written a few days ago about Kashmir). Therefore, any group unhappy with the way things are going but without the numbers to make its presence felt in normal politics has no option but to rise in armed rebellion if it wants a separate nation that will allow it what it considers its legitimate rights.

When one puts it like that, the solution is self-evident.

It lies in making clear and unambiguous provision for secession by any such group. The provisions should not be too easy; in fact they should be tough and stringent – but not so tough as to be impossible to meet either. Everything should be spelt out, such as the territories the putative new nation may claim, the status of enclaves, if any, the status of territories whose administrative control was transferred to the putative new nation (like Crimea being given to Ukraine by Russia), what happens to military and other government facilities, what proportion of the national finances the new nation will get and what proportion of the national debt it must bear, what happens to ethnic minorities, the terms of payment between the new nation and it parent – all this must be clearly and explicitly mentioned. There can’t be any room for doubt.

Let’s say now that a portion of a nation wishes to secede. The people of the region will first have to vote in an internationally observed plebiscite, in which at least 75% of the population casts valid votes, for independence by a minimum margin of 75%. I think those margins are realistic (in 1952, for instance, more than 99% of the Naga population of India voted for independence in a plebiscite.) Then the decision will have to be ratified by the local parliament or equivalent body of the secessionist region. After that it will have to relinquish control over all territories transferred to it after its accession to the parent nation, while not recovering control over any territories transferred away from it. It will not gain control over any enclaves and will have to allow access to such enclaves by corridors through its own territory (the example here would be Nagorno-Karabakh of Armenia, separated from Armenia proper by Azerbaijan, and in the Indian context, if Kashmir secedes, the road links to Indian controlled Ladakh which will run through Kashmiri territory). It will have to bear a proportion of the national debt in proportion to its contribution to the national economy, and compensate the parent for any bases or facilities the parent loses – all in hard currency equivalents. If minorities are asked to leave, it will have to compensate them, in hard currency – all from the share of the national finances it gets. Now you see how many people will still remain determined to secede after that. If they do, and they can get the votes they want in the plebiscite, then they truly earned independence, are willing to pay for it, and there is no reason why they can’t be let go. If not, well…    

This secession law would be helpful, therefore, in two ways: first, it would point to a real, democratic possibility for peaceful independence if the conditions specified are met, and therefore it would defang any attempt to solve the problem militarily; and also, since it would spell out clearly what independence would mean, it might well persuade a lot of people that they would be better off not trying for something that would leave them worse off than they were already.

But at least in India I doubt if such a thing would ever happen. We’re too much the miser and his hidden hoard of unused gold. 

No comments:

Post a Comment