It was said of the Balkans, by Winston Churchill, that the region makes more history than it can consume, much of it very convoluted and very bloody. This despite all the people in all the little states that made up the erstwhile Yugoslavia and, since the early 1990s, spinning off into several sovereign entities, being ethnically of the same “southern Slav” stock. The trouble is the Croats and the Slovenes are Catholic, the Serbs and the Montenegrins Russian Orthodox, and the Bosnian-Herzegovinians, like the Albanian Kosovars islanded in a Serb sea, Muslim. But who better to appreciate the pull of religion and the murderous friction it creates than us Indians?
Premier Hashim Thaci of the Serbia-locked Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence for his country. That the Kosovars have got as far as they have is because of a series of cold-blooded actions by former US president Bill Clinton. It is a little-known fact that in the early 1990s, the Central Intelligence Agency was ordered to channel Islamic extremists—mujahideen stalwarts of the war against the Russians in Afghanistan, and bands of assorted ruffians from Chechnya, Central Asia and Pakistan hankering for a jihad— into Kosovo to stop the Serbs fighting the Muslim insurgency spearheaded by, perhaps, the most heartless gang of cut-throats—the US-supported Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) led by Agim Cheku. KLA, repeatedly and with great deliberateness, massacred civilian Serbs to engineer reprisals by the Serbian military, which overreaction was used by Washington to justify the 78-day aerial bombardment campaign by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) in 1993 in Kosovo against the Serb military. That operation in time brought down the elected government of Slobodan Milosevic and fetched him personally a “Nuremberg” indictment as a war criminal responsible for the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Kosovo. Except, as objective reports always maintained, all the Albanian Kosovars who fled did so to escape Nato’s relentless bombing.
The question is: What did Serbia do to merit such treatment, and why this show of US cussedness? Instead of signing up with the European Union (EU), Serbia chose to reaffirm its Slavic roots and make common cause with “Mother Russia”. This was the proverbial red rag waved before the neoconservative bulls charging around the foreign policy landscape in Washington who were determined, in the triumphalist, we-won-the-Cold War-and-will-now-impose-a-peace vein, to punish Serbia and prove to the much reduced Russia’s allies and friends in its former sphere of influence that Moscow was too weak to protect them. Many of these states have been coerced into doing Washington’s bidding by a ruthless use of the stick and meagre use of carrots. A battered Serbia will swallow an independent Kosovo in return for promised entry into EU in the indefinite future. This is a continuation of the Cold War rivalry with Russia by other means.
The secondary benefits of the Kosovo policy were that it would win the US friends in the Islamic world or so the same blundering adventurists in Washington (who later created the problems in Iraq and are now intent on striking Iran) believed.
So, why worry? Because one can never tell when the self-serving American approach against Serbia and support for Kosovo, premised on “self-determination” for the minority Muslim Kosovars, will be transferred to Kashmir. Because, like Kosovo, Kashmir is a Muslim majority province but part of the larger, heterogeneous mosaic that is India, where Muslims are in a minority, like the Kosovars in Serbia. Kosovo can easily become the precedent for breaking up other countries that have inherent diversities ending in, say, a Muslim Mindanao separated from the Christian Philippines, the Muslim state of Patani in the southern part of Buddhist Thailand, etc. Or indeed Kashmir, if not as part of Pakistan, then conjoined to the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, as an independent state—an “Asian Switzerland” of Maharaja Hari Singh’s imaginings, but one firmly in Washington’s geostrategic grasp. A world of homogeneous states, with nothing in common with neighbouring countries, will make for an international system prone to unrestrained inter-state conflict. It is a denouement greatly to be feared and resisted.
With its declaration of independence, India will be asked by Washington to recognize the sovereign state of Kosovo as fait accompli. It is something New Delhi should not only firmly decline to do, but it should wage a sustained diplomatic campaign to deny Kosovo international recognition and seating in the United Nations. The principle on which Kosovo is founded is antithetical to the concept of an inclusive democracy and India. Messrs Thaci, Cheku and Company are rogues leading a pariah state they have obtained by the foulest means. Kosovo is already emerging as the “crime central” and the Al Qaeda headquarters in Europe, a haven for rabid Islamists, international terrorists, drug peddlers and gun-runners, and where fugitives and outlaws from all over can, for a price, live unmolested with their ill-gotten wealth. In the coming years, Nato members will have plenty to curse the US for, even as the Americans decamp leaving, as they always do, a mess for others to clean up.
Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.