By Philip Bowring

Dhaka: The Indian subcontinent offers some important lessons for Kosovo\Yugoslavia. So it is a pity that India, with almost characteristic hypocrisy, has been so quick to criticise NATO action as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

The Delhi statement sounded particularly odd here last week when Bangladesh was celebrating (March 25) the anniversary of its independence. The final success of its war of liberation from Pakistan, achieved in December 1971, was due to India's massive and direct military intervention in support of the secessionist movement.

The creation of Bangladesh -- now the eighth most populous nation on earth -- was by far the largest incidence since 1945 of one state participating with military force in the dismemberment of another. It created a precedent which is worth examining.

India's motives in 1971 were certainly not entirely idealistic. It had every interest in the dismemberment of its main enemy, Pakistan, and the creation on its eastern border of a state which was weak and in its debt.

But mixed motives did not detract from the legitimacy of Indian intervention in support of a liberation movement which enjoyed overwhelming popular support. It was against a Pakistan military not noted for adherence to human rights -- though better behaved than Mr Milosevic's forces in Kosovo.

In 1971, there were numerous warnings -- including from Chinese premier Chou En-lai -- that the establishment of Bangladesh would set an appaling precedent for the unity India itself as well as for the territorial integrity of many newly independent Afro-Asian states.

But in international opinion, the justice of the Bangladeshi cause was a stronger force and contributed to Pakistan's eventual admission of defeat.

Bangladesh was the first, and is still by far the most important, post-1945 case of recognising that not all the borders and sovereign states created at the end of empires were immutable. Further adjustments to the states created by European empires in Asia and Africa, as well as the successors to the Ottoman and Habsburg empires in Europe, were likely. Yugoslavia was a well-intentioned construct intended to bring an identity to a part of the post-Ottoman/Habsburg world just as a two-winged Pakistan was an attempt to resolve some of the contradictions arising from the end of British India. In the event neither worked.

The necessary re-adjustments may be painful but they do become the least bad options. Indonesia has learned that lesson in East Timor. Ethiopia seemed to have learned it in Eritrea.

The other lesson of Bangladesh that may be relevant in Kosovo is the staying power of well defined communities. Despite the Kissinger "basket case" taunts, it has established itself as a viable state with a strong indentity and no likelihood of breaking up or being invaded. Poor it remains, and not well- governed. But from wretched beginnings it has made much more progress than Pakistan in areas from agriculture to education, womens rights and family planning. Much of this must be attributable to having the most homogeneous population in south Asia -- indeed all of Asia outside Japan and Korea.

At the same time, the relative success of Bangladesh has had no visible negative impact on the Indian Union, which faces no secessionist problems other than the endless sore of Kashmir, an issue which long predates 1971. India shows how heterogeneous societies can work given political commitment to religious and linguistic pluralism -- clearly long lacking in Yugoslavia.

As Mr Milosevic has no interest in Indian-style pluralism, the principles that India applied in Bangladesh in 1971 should be applied by NATO in Kosovo.


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