INTERVIEW: LORD AVEBURY
British lord sees
end of nation-state
The following interview with Lord Avebury on Sept. 26, was made available to EIR.
Q: I was interested in your assessment of India and the general region, specifically India, but the border countries as well.
Lord Avebury: The major problem politically, I think, in India, is the continuing dispute with Pakistan. The unsettled Kashmir dispute which has gone on since 1947, and which led both states to embark on programs of [acquiring] nuclear weapons, making the region the most likely one in the world where a nuclear war may break out.
Supposedly, the dispute is meant to be resolved by the Simla agreement, which was reached in 1972 between India and Pakistan, which provided that there would be bilateral discussions leading to the settlement of this issue. But, in spite of rather spasmodic attempts to get the talks going, they have never addressed the substantive issue of how the people of Kashmir themselves can be enabled to participate in the decision concerning their political future—although in 1947, both the then-governor general, Lord Mountbatten, and the prime minister of India, Mr. Nehru, had promised that the accession of Kashmir to India by the maharaja, who was of course a Hindu, governing a predominantly Muslim State, would be subject to ratification by means of a plebiscite. That [plebiscite] was never held, and the Indians subsequently claimed that the assembly which was brought into existence in 1952, and purported to ratify the accession, had closed the door on the matter, overlooking the fact that 72 out of 75 [members] of that assembly were elected without an opponent. That's the crux of the matter.
The majority of the people in the Indian-held part of the state believe that they should have a chance to review the decision that was made on their behalf by the maharaja in 1947, and Indians say they will not be given such opportunity.
The U.S. has a position which is intermediate between the Indian insistence that Kashmir is an integral part of her territory, and the Kashmiri insistence that they still have to have a vote on it. What the Americans say, and [Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South Asian Affairs] Robin Raphel has articulated this view several times, much to the annoyance of the Indians, is that Kashmir is a disputed territory. She's gone some way toward saying that there should be some mechanism which removes that dispute, and settles that matter once and for all, although she hasn't gone so far as to suggest that it might be solved by a plesbiscite. It's difficult to see whatever mechanism there could be.
Q: To what extent is the setup in India a legacy of colonialism, as in other countries, where the borders are artificial, where different ethnic groups are combined together?
Lord Avebury: Kashmir is a legacy of colonialism in a very broad sense, in that the rule that was laid down at independence was that the princely states, of which there were some 250, were all given the right to decide on their political future, ostensibly. I say ostensibly, because they were leaned on pretty heavily by Mountbatten to decide to go for either Pakistan or India—the record shows that pretty clearly. He went a long way in both Kashmir and Hyderabad, to dissuade the rulers from any thoughts of total independence, and of course in those days, world ideas on what was a viable State were quite different.
It was thought that you had to have large resources, both in terms of territory and manpower, to qualify for independence. Well, now we see tiny nations, like Vanuatu and Belize, take their place in the United Nations, and Kashmir, in fact, would be a substantial State in comparison with the vast majority of members of the United Nations. But they didn't think of that in those days. And anyway, Britain had originally intended to confer independence on the whole of India, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, and it was only with some reluctance, and under the pressure from [first President of Pakistan Mohammad Ali] Jinnah, that they came to the conclusion that the Muslims should have a separate State.
Q: To what extent would the population in other parts of India, such as the Northeast or South, if given a choice, opt, if not for full independence, at least for autonomy, within the State?
Lord Avebury: I think the latter is the case. In places like Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Assam, there would be a strong demand for a greater degree of regional autonomy, and that is exemplified by the growth of local nationalist parties, as, for example, in Tamil Nadu, and this will certainly be a shock to the outside world in the next general election, because no one's really woken up to it yet, and they still think of the Congress Party as being traditionally the governing authority, and they can't come to terms with a new era in the subcontinent, where the Congress Party may disappear off the political map.
Q: And the regional parties—
Lord Avebury: —are on the up and up. And so, by the way, are the Dalit, the untouchable parties, which have never been very well organized politically, and which are now flexing their muscles a bit. I think in states like Orissa, they want to be separately represented, and form political parties, which will do just that. The tendencies in India will follow those in other parts of the world, a centrifugalism.
Q: What other countries are you thinking of?
Lord Avebury: I'm thinking of the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Federal states which are not in accordance with the wishes of the people have these fissionable tendencies, and you might argue that Ethiopia is going in the same direction.
Q: Do you see the same tendency in Pakistan?
Lord Avebury: Oh, yes, most definitely! There are nationalist sentiments stirring. But it's complicated in Pakistan, because, in Sind, for example, there is a Sindi nationalist movement, totally obscured by the MQM [Mohajir Quam Movement]. So that's a rather different political problem, because it doesn't relate to a local nationalism which existed since time immemorial. It's a phenomenon that arose out of partition. So, it's all very recent. Whereas, if you're talking about Tamil Nadu nationalism, that arises from people who have been there for centuries, or millennia. Whereas, the MQM is of fairly recent origin, which might not make the feelings any less intense, it's just a difference in character.
Q: One gets the impression that the tendencies in Pakistan could lead to a Lebanon type of situation.
Lord Avebury: In Karachi and Hyderabad, I think that's right. There is no doubt that the MQM is a very strong force politically, and the government is not clear how to deal with that. And the military solution hasn't worked, and isn't working. And the political solution which was attempted by [Pakistan's Prime Minister] Benazir [Bhutto] was not genuine. I think I'm not being unfair, if I say she entered into those talks with a view to placating world opinion, rather than any genuine wish to reach some accommodation with the MQM, since they [Pakistani leaders] do think of them in very stark terms as a terrorist organization, and nothing else. There is a parallel [between] how Benazir views the MQM, and how the Turks view the PKK [Kurdish Workers Party]. They don't think of them as political organizations.
Q: Also in Sri Lanka—
Lord Avebury: —I think [President] Chandrika Kumaratunga was genuinely committed to the peace process, and it was very much part of the election campaign.... Now she has had to come out with a scheme; most people say they don't like it. All my Singhalese friends say it's absurd to fragment a tiny country less than the area of Scotland, into nine political entities which are virtually autonomous, independent states, with their own powers of raising taxation, and so on. Knowing what nepotism is like, anyway, in Sri Lanka, I dread to think of the opportunities this structure would support for jobs for the boys.
Q: To what extent do the movements in Punjab have a radiating effect in the region, for example, on Tibet?
Lord Avebury: People in Tibet are obviously conscious of what is happening elsewhere in the region. But I think the immense power of the Chinese, and their attempts to change the demography of Tibet, make it quite different from any country in the region. And the Chinese do have the manpower to literally swamp Tibetans, as they have done with the Mongolians. In Mongolia, it is said, there are 10 Han for every Mongolian. And the same thing is gradually happening in East Turkestan [the current Chinese province of Xinjiang], where there is a substantial inflow of Han intended to outweigh the Muslim population, of Turkic origin, and also to persuade people to intermarry, as they have done in Tibet and East Turkestan.
That option is available to the Chinese on a scale which doesn't operate elsewhere in the region. It's not so easy for the Javanese, for example, to do it in Indonesia, because there aren't so many Javanese compared with the minorities. They won't be able to send colonizers all over the place, and, as it were, breed them out of existence. Whereas the Chinese can do that very easily. It's also a difference between the Russians and their empire; the Russians, although they had substantial populations in the Baltic States, never intermarried to the extent it was necessary if they were going to extinguish the ethnic identity of the subject peoples. But that option is available to the Chinese and they are pursuing it very vigorously.
Q: So the long-term assessment is not hopeful?
Lord Avebury: I'm not optimistic about the Tibetan case, I must say. The only major plus point they have, compared with the other regional peoples, is the Dalai Lama, and the immense sympathy that he has in the world community. He's been tremendously effective, a wonderful man. To an extent, the Burmese have that with Aung San Suu Kyi, but not to the same degree, and, of course, she cannot travel.
Q: What do you think should be the policy of the United States, the United Nations, or other world bodies toward these questions?
Lord Avebury: I think the world needs to take a new look at the question of self-determination, without departing completely from the principle of territorial integrity, which is one of the founding axioms of the United Nations. The international community has to pursue various alternatives which give people control over their own affairs, even within the boundaries of a State. I think that the CSCE [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] has drawn up some rules which could be effectively applied, if there were a code of enforcement. The Copenhagen declaration of the CSCE, which deals with the rights of minorities, is quite a good document, but there is no mechanism for enforcement.
The regional organizations and the U.N. must address these lacunae. It's all very well for the secretary general to talk about preventive diplomacy, but unless that is backed up by some sort of sanctions against defaulting States, then you aren't going to get anywhere.
Q: What are your views of Africa in this context?
Lord Avebury: There are an awful lot of problems in Africa. One of the biggest is Sudan, and its role as a nest of Islamist tendencies that spread throughout the region, and the dangers of international conflict building up with all the neighbors. I mean Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and the difficulties that that creates for the reconciliation of the Sudanese problem itself. Because, of course, the IGADD [Inter-Governmental Association for Drought and Development] process, which is supposed to be run by all these neighbors, cannot work, if there is a major breakdown of trust between Sudan and its neighbors, as there has been. That's one major problem. The possible disintegration of Nigeria is the second.
Q: You think it's that serious?
Lord Avebury: Oh, yes! We're dangerously close to that. We'll see what happens on Oct. 1, when the military regime is supposed to announce its program for transition to democratic rule, and the rumors are that they want four years to do that. And also they have to say what they are going to do about the alleged coup plotters, including former head of state [Gen. Olusegun] Obasanjo and his deputy, [Shehu] Yar A'dua, and some others sentenced to death.
Q: Do you think the policies of the regime are fostering a hardened tribal identity, in that sense of disintegration?
Lord Avebury: I think the regime itself—it's not actually the military, you're talking about the Caliphate. Now the Caliphate is a separatist idea, because, after all, if you're emphasizing that, you're rubbing in the distinction between the Muslim and the Christian sections of the country. And the ruling class is trying very hard to lay all the blame for the democratic opposition on people who don't belong to the north.
Q: What's your general assessment of Latin America?
Lord Avebury: There are ongoing problems in Guatemala and El Salvador, and I think the efforts being made by the international community, probably ... there is quite a contrast when you look at it and you see the sheer amount of attention that Guatemala and El Salvador have received compared to conflicts elsewhere in the world—they ought to be all right. But the remarkable thing is that after you have all these agreements, shuffled and back and so on, nothing seems to change, and you still have people murdered all the time. The structures, the military structures which have caused the problem all along, have not been totally dismantled.
Q: Are there any non-governmental organizations [NGOs] that your parliamentary organization tends to work with?
Lord Avebury: Oh, yes. As far as across-the-board capabilities are concerned, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.... At the other extreme, you have the individual NGOs, of which there are a multitude. For example, here are some of the "Cs" listed in my computer: Christian Solidarity International, Central American Human Rights Committee, the Iraq National Committee, Caucasia, Catholic Institute for International Relations, Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights in Saudi Arabia, etc. These are the people we deal with, multiply that by 26, and you have a large number of organizations.