This week's editor


Adam Ramsay is co-editor of OurKingdom.

Kosovo to Kashmir: the self-determination dilemma

Consider this sequence of events. The central government of a country removes the political leadership of an autonomous province of the country in a purge-like act. It then sets about revoking the self-rule powers of the province, which has a different ethno-religious majority from the population of the country as a whole. Public protests in the province are met with heavy-handed police tactics. A repressive regime is instituted in the province, with both democratic institutions and the civil rights of citizens effectively suspended.Sumantra Bose is professor of international and comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). His books include Bosnia after Dayton: Nationalist Partition and International Intervention (Oxford University Press, 2002), Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (Harvard University Press, 2003) and Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka (Harvard University Press, 2007)

Also by Sumantra Bose in openDemocracy:

"Contested lands: paths to progress" (14 May 2007)

"Uttar Pradesh: India's democratic landslip" (29 May 2007)

"Sri Lanka's stalemated conflict" (12 June 2007)

"The partition evasion" (23 August 2007)

Eventually, political radicalisation sets in and some among the misruled province's younger generation pick up the gun to fight for "liberation". The nascent insurgency draws a fierce response from the state's military and police organs. The security forces crack down hard, and in so doing victimise the civilian population. Massacres of civilians and other serious abuses occur. The militants are not stamped out; instead, their struggle evokes large-scale popular support. A major crisis has developed.

This may read like a potted history of Kosovo between 1989 and 1999. It is, however, a potted history of Indian policy towards Kashmir, and its consequences, between 1953 and 1990. So do the United States and its allies in Europe support self-determination for Kashmir, and threaten multilateral intervention to that end?

Of course not. The oft-stated American position on Kashmir is that India and Pakistan should negotiate a bilateral solution to the Kashmir dispute while taking into account the wishes of "the Kashmiri people" (a description that itself grossly over-simplifies the society and politics of Kashmir, which contains a diversity of regions, religions, ethnicities and languages, and whose citizens are split into pro-independence, pro-Pakistan and pro-India segments).

Nonetheless, the caution and circumspection that define the stance of the United States and major European Union countries towards the Kashmir dispute are typical of the attitude of the "international community" and its dominant players towards claims to self-determination. The record of the international order since 1945 is that self-determination movements tend to receive a sceptical hearing at best, and no hearing at all in many cases. The vague and somewhat outdated principles of international law relevant to the issue of secession are broadly supportive of the territorial integrity of states, and recognise the legitimacy of self-determination only in situations of colonialism. Between 1945 and 1990 the only fully realised case of national self-determination outside the decolonisation framework was Bangladesh in the early 1970s, facilitated by an Indian military intervention that resulted in the total defeat of Pakistani forces in the former East Pakistan. During those decades, dozens of other self-determination movements struggled in vain.

Pakistan’s rivalrous coalition

Pakistan's newly minted coalition government, in office only since 25 March 2008, is presently lurching from one crisis to another. Its political core, the partnership between the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) ended - for the moment at least - on 13 May 2008 when Sharif withdrew his quota of ministers from the federal cabinet over the ostensibly arcane issue of how to restore to office the senior judges sacked under President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency on 3 November 2007.

Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option

What does it take to persuade the European Union that what Russia is doing in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia merits more than a gentle reproach?

Robert Parsons is international editor of France 24. He earned a doctorate at Glasgow University for a thesis on the origins of Georgian nationalism. He was the BBC's Moscow correspondent (1993-2002), and worked at RFE/RL as director of its Georgian service, senior correspondent and chief producer for multimedia projects.

Also by Robert Parsons in openDemocracy:

"Russia and Georgia: a lover's revenge" (6 October 2006)

"Georgia: progress, interrupted" (16 November 2007)

"Georgia's race to the summit" (4 January 2008)

"Mikheil Saakashvii's bitter victory" (11 January 2008)

Serbia’s political carousel

Serbian voters sent another mixed message to their political parties in the general election of 11 May 2008. The result was not as bad as many feared, not as good as some might think, and not as clear as some might imagine.

Eric Gordy is senior lecturer in southeast politics at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. He was previously associate professor of sociology at Clark University, Massachusetts. He is the author of The Culture of Power in Serbia: Nationalism and the Destruction of Alternatives (Penn State University Press, 1999), and writes for the blog East Ethnia Also by Eric Gordy in openDemocracy:

"The Milosevic account" (17 March 2006)

"Serbia's elections: less of the same" (23 January 2007)

"Serbia's Kosovo claim: much ado about..." (2 October 2007)

"Serbia's presidential election: the best-laid plans..." (21 January 2008)

"Serbia chooses a future, just" (5 February 2008)

Israel at 60: the “iron wall” revisited

In 1923, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of revisionist Zionism, published an article entitled On the Iron Wall. He argued that Arab nationalists were bound to oppose the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Consequently, a voluntary agreement between the two sides was unattainable. The only way to realise the Zionist project was behind an "iron wall" of Jewish military strength. In other words, the Zionist project could only be implemented unilaterally and by military force.

The Iran risk, again

The risk of a conflict between the United States and Iran is, unexpectedly and in a new context, acquiring fresh force. True, the current scenario has elements of the familiar - the recent deployment of two US carrier-battle groups in the Gulf, a pointed reminder to the Tehran government of the extent of Washington's naval power; and a continuation of arguments over Iranian nuclear ambitions, including inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the imposition of a third layer of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. What makes the latest phase of tension between Washington and Tehran different, however, is the influence on US calculations of its predicament in Iraq and Afghanistan - and, in particular, of the upsurge in violence in March-April 2008 in Basra and Baghdad.

The world’s food insecurity

The food crisis is now affecting many countries across the world. Millions of people in dozens of countries are unable to afford the food they need, and malnutrition is on the rise.

Afghanistan’s Vietnam portent

There have been many suggestions among media and military analysts since 2003 of possible parallels between the war in Iraq and the United States imbroglio in Vietnam that ended so humiliatingly in 1975. The argument is most prominently made by critics of both wars, though it has also been articulated by defence scholars or officials concerned that the US learns the "right" lessons from its costly Vietnam experience.

Hamas: talk to them

The trend of events in Gaza in the first months of 2008 has highlighted once again that the current situation is untenable. From Hamas's bulldozing the border-fence with Egypt to enable Gazans to break out of their international blockade and stock up on food and energy essentials, to the rocket-attacks on Israeli towns and Israel's punitive military incursions, it is clear that something has to give. The question is: what?

A war of decades

The long, slow, perceptible if cautious bubble of optimism about the United States's progress in Iraq has finally been punctured. It was the product of the measurable if limited progress in the security situation in Iraq in 2007 that was partly the result of the US military "surge" of February-July 2007; it was fuelled further by the wishful thinking of a country desperate for some good news after more than four years of grinding war, and by the driven ideological certitudes of neo-conservative commentators.

The Iraqi whirlwind

A persistent drumbeat of optimism about the progress of the war in Iraq has been audible among some United States commentators in the last months of 2007 and the early months of 2008. The reduction in American military and Iraqi civilian casualties during much of this period has helped fuel this mood, and the notable decrease in US media interest in Iraq - partly owing to the blanket coverage of both an effervescent presidential-election campaign and a severe economic downturn - has further encouraged the subliminal sense of a gradual improvement.

Lebanon’s “14 March”: from protest to leadership

Three years ago, on 14 March 2005, Lebanon witnessed an unprecedented event: a demonstration of a million or more civilians protesting against the assassination of their former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri a month earlier and demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from their country. The occasion led observers to draw comparisons with Ukraine's "orange revolution" of the winter just passed, when protestors encamped on the streets of Kyiv refused to accept the results of a fraudulent presidential election and eventually - through their sheer persistent and peaceful democratic defiance - forced a re-run and in the process became citizens of a free state.

Basra’s second battle decoded

Reidar Visser is a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. He holds a doctorate in middle-eastern studies from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq (Lit-Verlag, 2005), the first study ever on a specific case of southern separatism in Iraq. Many of his writings on questions of federalism, autonomy and decentralisation in southern Iraq are available at his website,

Also by Reidar Visser in openDemocracy:

"Iraq's partition fantasy" (19 May 2006)

"Iraq lives" (22 November 2006)

"Washington's Iraqi 'surge': where are the Iraqis?" (12 January 2007)
On the surface, the story may look plausible enough. A provincial city rich in oil degenerates into mafia-style conditions affecting the security of citizens as well as the national revenue from this precious resource; the central government intervenes to clean up. This is how many in the media have been reporting the week-long clashes between government forces and militiamen in Basra which ended on 30 March 2008 with the withdrawal of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army from the streets.

European missile defence: the America-Russia-Iran knot

At the Nato summit of heads of state in Bucharest on 2-4 April 2008, the issue of missile defence will figure high on the agenda. The odds are that, without any meaningful parliamentary debate within or between European states, Europe will quietly go along with the United States proposal to instal missile-defence interceptors in Poland and a powerful radar system in the Czech Republic. Moreover, but it appears that further steps will then be taken to integrate this strategic US "national missile defence" system with "theatre missile defence", currently being developed by Nato countries at an annual cost of €1 billion euro ($1.58 bn).

Iraq in 2012: four scenarios

The United States is in the middle of an intense series of discussions, hearings and reports about the future of its military forces in Iraq. Each assessment of the current predicament carries some implication for possible ways forward. But the unfolding pattern of events in Iraq is not a matter for the US alone: whatever happens in that country will profoundly affect the lives of Iraqis themselves and people and states in the neighbouring region.

A global threat multiplier

A European Union study on the problems of global climate change, leaked to the press four days before its official launch on 14 March 2008, contained the sobering assessment that a failure to take radical action now to address global warming would create the likelihood of severe conflict over resources in the decades ahead. Two days later, on 16 March, data from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) reveals that the rate of shrinking of glaciers across the world - a key marker of climate change - has accelerated; this more than doubled between 2006 and 2007, and the 2007 figure was five times the average for the 1980-99 period. These two documents, taken together, present governments and citizens in the leading emissions-producing countries in particular with an unavoidable test.

Pakistan’s tough inheritance

Even as newly elected legislators were sworn in at Islamabad’s imposing national assembly amidst tight security on 17 March 2008, Pakistanis remained unaware who their next prime minister is going to be. The reason for this uncertainty is that the leading member of the coalition formed after the elections of 18 February, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has yet to name its candidate.

Halabja: the politics of memory

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of horrifying events that are known to few, denied by some, and exploited for political gain by others. Twenty years ago, on 16 March 1988, Iraqi bombers dropped chemical agents on the town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing several thousand civilians. The attack laid the precedent for the tactical use of poison-gas against the Kurdish countryside on the first day of every stage of a five-month counter-insurgency campaign that followed shortly afterwards (this was codenamed Anfal, an Arabic word meaning "spoils of war"). These chemicals killed a few hundred and achieved the intended effect of flushing terrified villagers into the arms of Iraqi armed forces, who transported them to transit centres, sorted them by age and sex, and carted off tens of thousands to execution sites in the country's western deserts, far from Kurdistan, where they have laid buried underneath a thin layer of sand until this day.

Israel, the United States and Iran: the tipping-point

The resignation of Admiral William Fallon, the commander of United States Central Command (Centcom) on 11 March 2008 brings the issue of a confrontation between the George W Bush administration and Iran suddenly back on the security agenda. Most analysts had thought that the risk of war had subsided with the publication on on 3 December 2007 of the US national-intelligence estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran was probably not now developing nuclear weapons. There were various qualifications and provisos in that report - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities - but it still appeared to limit the administration's war option by removing the main argument.

Jordan: directing democracy

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is far from being a democratic state in the western sense, but the condition of political liberty in the country in recent decades compares favourably to that of its Arab neighbours Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Even a historian as critical of Arab states as Bernard Lewis has argued that it is in the "reforming autocracies" of the Arab world such as Jordan, that the best prospects for democracy exist. The country's record in defending an (albeit constrained) space of internal freedom and open debate is arguably even more impressive in light of its exposure to the fallout from the war in Iraq since March 2003 - which includes bombs in Amman, regional pressures and tensions, and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.

The war over there

The frenzy of the presidential election season in the United States means that the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are getting little coverage in the local media. But much is happening on the ground in these countries - and elsewhere - that will help shape the agenda of the new incumbent in the White House in January 2009.

Islam and ideology: the Pakistani connection

The various debates on Islam, Islamism and sharia law in openDemocracy have reflected different currents of thought on these great issues in the context of modern political and intellectual developments: including the use of religion for ideological ends, and the controversy over the speech of the Church of England's spiritual head which explored the place of religion-based legal codes in modern Britain.

Gaza: unlock this prison

Geoffrey Bindman is a former chairman and vice-president of the Society of Labour Lawyers. He is chairman of the British Institute of Human Rights. Also by Geoffrey Bindman in openDemocracy:

"Justice in the world's light" (14 June 2001)

"Civil liberties and the 'war on terror'" (5 May 2004)

"From race to religion: the next deterrent law" (18 August 2004)

"War on terror or war on justice?" (3 March 2005)

"Human rights: can we afford them?" (2 February 2006)

Riyadh: city of women

Wafa'a is a very unusual Saudi woman. A character it would be difficult to come across in the streets and shopping-malls of Riyadh city. So I was lucky to have her as my guide during a two-week visit to Saudi Arabia's capital. The adventure started every day after work, when Wafa'a and I met and she gave me the opportunity to "uncover" her city. A different Riyadh than I had imagined, but as real as Wafa'a herself is.

When will they ever learn? Women, men and peace-building

The seventh International Women's Day since the passage of the fabled United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 arrives on 8 March 2008 at a time when the gap between the resolution's fine aspirations and their practical accomplishment seems to be widening. This is particularly clear in the area of conflict resolution and peace-building.

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