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The Rediff Special/ Gaurav Kampani

India's Kosovo Conundrum

India's national security managers suffer from a crisis of confidence. They also lack moral character. If these observations sound harsh, then consider their stand on NATO's air strikes against Serbia and the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo.

They have opposed NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia's civil war on the grounds that it amounts to interference in the latter's internal affairs; such actions violate Article 2(7) of the UN Charter, which puts internal conflicts and disputes outside the pale of external intervention. They have also argued that a military campaign against Yugoslavia, even if taken as a regional initiative, but without due authorisation of the UN Security Council, will seriously undermine the authority of the entire United Nations system.

And even in the face of mounting evidence of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" which has displaced over half a million Kosovar Albanians, the Indian foreign ministry piously maintains that the present crisis in Kosovo "can be resolved through peaceful means and a solution can be found within the framework of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Really? To be fair to the Indian government, it has stuck by a strict interpretation of international law. NATO's actions certainly violate Yugoslav sovereignty. However, the trouble with this position is that it ignores an emerging body of humanitarian international law, which confers upon individuals and communities the right to be protected against genocidal practices, torture and other gross violations of human-rights. External intervention becomes justified when countries become failed states or when their internal crises threaten to spill into neighboring regions.

The Yugoslav rump-state is a case fit for humanitarian intervention. It is a failed state. Furthermore, Slobodan Milosevic's regime and its counterparts in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo are guilty of genocidal practices and gross human-rights abuses. In fact, competing tribalism within Yugoslavia has led to a decade-old civil war in Europe, which in its wake has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced millions. This internal conflagration has not only destroyed the Yugoslav federation, it now threatens to spread and destabilise the Balkans region as a whole.

Ideally, NATO should have had the UN Security Council endorse its military action against Yugoslavia. However, threats of a Russian and Chinese veto ruled out the possibility of UN-sponsored intervention altogether.

Russia and China have no wish to expend blood, treasure, or political capital to engineer a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis. They have nothing positive to offer. Nevertheless, they are opposed to military intervention on behalf of the hapless Kosovar Albanians. Russia does not take very kindly to being demoted from its former position as a superpower to that of a Third World country with nuclear weapons.

To Russia's further dismay, its former East European satellites are clamoring to join NATO and the European Union. More upsetting is the problem of the restive ethnic minorities within the Russian Federation and its "near abroad." The Kremlin is apprehensive that an international precedent in favor of external intervention on humanitarian grounds might some day be invoked to support the cause of ethnic minorities within states of the former Soviet Union.

China's Communist gerontocrats have their own axe to grind. They have long memories and haven't quite forgotten the past century of humiliation when China became virtually a protectorate of the Western powers. However, more to the point, China has a terrible human-rights record. Its Communist Party is guilty of suppressing nationalist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang. Then there is the unfinished business of Taiwan, a "renegade province" in Beijing's eyes. Plainly, China has calculated that humanitarian intervention in not in its national interest for the present.

But why has India joined the clamour against bombing Belgrade? The answer lies in Kashmir. The Indian government fears that the Kosovo precedent of humanitarian military operations might be used by Pakistan to back the Kashmiri Muslims's demand for self-determination. After all, propagandist charges of genocide and human-rights violations can be applied equally to Indian counterinsurgency operations in the valley.

Besides, India's problems with religious and ethnic minorities are not confined to Kashmir. There is the infamous insurgency in the North-East that has bedeviled governments in New Delhi for nearly three decades now. Moreover, who knows when the Sikh militants might rise in rebellion? Supporting the cause of the Kosovar Albanians, from New Delhi's perspective, is a dangerous proposition indeed.

Although there may be several reasons why India may wish to take a cautious stand on NATO's military action over Kosovo, Kashmir should not be one of them. Indian policy makers should stop drawing parallels between the Yugoslav civil war and the Kashmir insurgency, as there are profound differences between the two. Unlike Yugoslavia, India is far from being a failed state. India is the world's largest democracy. Outside the arc of Western Europe and North America, India perhaps has one of the most successful records of managing a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-lingual society democratically.

India's Kashmiri Muslims enjoy all political, religious, economic, and social rights guaranteed by the Constitution. A decade of bitter low-intensity conflict in Kashmir has not produced ethnic or religious cleansing of the Serb variety. To the contrary, it is the minority Hindu Pandits who have become victims of religious cleansing.

India's state managers have responded to this provocation in a remarkably restrained manner. They have disregarded calls from the Hindu right to revoke Kashmir's special status under Article 370 and resort to Hindu-resettlements to change the demographics in the region.

India should thus be proud of the manner in which it has managed problems posed by its ethnic and religious minorities; it should place its model of politically managing a large multinational society before the United Nations for other States to emulate. There is no reason for cowering in fear before imaginary Kosovo parallels.

Indian policy-makers also exaggerate the depth and reach of American power. True, the United States remains the world's only superpower. But even in its unipolar moment, as the unfolding events in Iraq and Yugoslavia indicate, there exist severe limits to the ability of the United States to achieve political objectives. If US military power is pre-eminent, its ability to use that power to realise its goals is quite limited.

The United States and NATO have intervened in Yugoslavia because it lies at the heart of Europe. Continuing tribal slaughter of the Milosevician variety not only produced continental instability that strained the credibility of the alliance, it also threatened the very norms and ethics that constitute the foundations of Western civilisation. Nonetheless, intervention in Europe does not mean that NATO has plans to intervene elsewhere in Russia, China, or India.

India's apparently principled opposition to the NATO-led military operations is less credible given its own record of interventions in South Asia to stomp out regional bush fires. Remember the 1971 Bangladesh War? Then India provided political, material, and military support to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's forces fighting for Bangladeshi independence. Later, Indian armed forces intervened in Pakistan's civil war directly to create the state of Bangladesh. India's motivations in helping Bangladesh win independence were as much humanitarian as they were ideological and strategic.

During the 1980s, India repeated the Bangladesh experiment in Sri Lanka. This time, however, it was the Jaffna Tamils fighting for autonomy that became the object of India's special affections. Sri Lankan Tamils were allowed safe sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. From 1983, the Indian government's military and intelligence agencies helped transform the Tamil rebels into the most efficient guerilla force in the world.

In May 1987, Indian air force transports escorted by Mirage 2000s dropped relief supplies to the beleaguered Tamil rebels fighting the Sri Lankan army in Jaffna. Sri Lanka wasn't exactly amused at what it described as a "naked violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity." In fact, an outraged Sri Lankan Prime Minister Premadasa characterised the airdrop as "dogs that had shat on the Jaffna peninsula."

Rajiv Gandhi's government also forced Colombo to agree to a badly engineered peace accord. The result was the deployment of an Indian Peacekeeping Force in Jaffna, which ended in a disaster.

Like the United States and now NATO, India interferes in the affairs of its neighbors and has violated Pakistani and Sri Lankan sovereignty in the past. In both instances, India had geopolitical and strategic interests. However, it also intervened on humanitarian grounds, to promote a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic model for building societies. These goals are laudable.

Today, NATO has intervened in Yugoslavia in support of these very principles. NATO's objective is not to dismember Yugoslavia. If it were, it would not have sought a peace accord at Rambouillet. Rather, NATO would have invaded and not bombed Serbia. NATO hopes, however, to persuade Mr Milosevic to grant the Kosovar Albanians genuine autonomy.

Given Serbia's record of ethnic cleansing, the allied nations are determined to send an international peacekeeping force to Kosovo to police and help rebuild a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society that guarantees peace and security to all Albanians and Serbians.

By taking a stance against intervention in favour of the Kosovar Albanians, who have been subject to some of the worst human-rights abuse in Europe since the end of World War II, India's state managers have exposed their cynicism. They are opposed to NATO's intervention solely on grounds of great power politics.

In doing so, they have not only betrayed their utter lack of confidence in managing India's internal problems, but also belittled the more positive achievements of Indian democracy. Worse, India has allied its interests with Russia and China. The first is a fast crumbling State; the other has no traditions of democratic governance.

With friends and policy positions like these, Indians should not be surprised that very few in the international system take their government seriously.

Gaurav Kampani is a Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the CNS or the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

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