Monday, September 12, 2005

Acehnese Autonomy And Kashmir

An Indonesia-scholar friend hails the recently completed autonomy agreement for Aceh:

The autonomy provisions for Aceh are truly remarkable. Everything, except for defense, foreign affairs, finance and religion, will now be delegated to the regional authority under the proposed new statute for Aceh. The regional authority in Aceh will then enact a region-specific legal code. It will control Aceh's marine resources, 70% of its hydrocarbon reserves, its seaports and airport. Aceh will be able to leverage international capital bypassing Jakarta. It would enjoy a degree of fiscal and judicial decentralization. Indonesia will be legally bound to consult the Acehnese regional legislature before it enters into any international agreement that could impact on Aceh. The straits of Malacca come to mind.

I sincerely hope that the unique experiment in Aceh succeeds. I am sure that some in East Timor would look at that peace accord with interest. Aceh might offer lessons to Mindanao, North East Sri Lanka, and Pattani in southern Thailand.

In a June discussion with Gaurav Sabnis we'd strongly opposed the idea of autonomy in the Kashmiri context. See here and here. We responded on Aceh:

In our inter-connected world, where political, institutional, and economic scale are frequently key to success in the global supply chain, ethnicity-based centrifugal tendencies are increasingly counter-productive.

It's scale that creates resources to crush chaos from within -- and hold back anarchy pouring in from abroad. Absent scale, there is ethnic pride perhaps but, as Americans might say, ethnic pride and a token would get you on the subway.

As Indians, we must say clearly that such "autonomy" is hardly cause for celebration -- indeed, it is evidence of Indonesia's weakness that it conceded as much as it did. There is zero possibility of any such thing happening , ever, in any territory India controls. Aceh will, however, become one more model that Pakistan-sponsored terrorists will throw in our faces. This too we'll have to stare down.

Our friend responded:

I agree with you on the need for economies of scale in the 21 century. But, Aceh remains a part of Indonesia unlike East Timor. Many of the provisions for devolution in the Indonesian peace accord exist in the Indian constitution. While the central government in India is not legally bound to consult any of the states in the formulation of domestic policy or international treaty, it is only because the states are strongly represented in both houses of the central legislature. The Indian military is subject to the civil judiciary in each state (including Kashmir). The Indian states enjoy a degree of fiscal and judicial decentralization. They are free to promulgate their own laws in certain areas. There is no common civil code in India. And yet the Indian citizenry is a united one.

The ill fated accord on Kashmir in 1954 went further to provide for devolution. This included control over all subjects by the elected Kashmiri legislature with the exception of foreign affairs, defence, finance and communications. Kashmir, under the terms of that accord, was to have a separate prime minister and flag. However, there were insufficient legal safeguards for Ladakh and Jammu. The vale of Kashmir, after all, only accounts for 8,000 square miles out of the 35,000 square miles of Indian controlled Kashmir.

Mercifully, this accord was ill-fated!! Hopefully, its ghost will never be resurrected.

1 comment:

libertarian said...

Aceh nothing. We can have dialogue - hopefully the Hurriyat doesn't confuse this with negotiation. This is no negotiation with them. With a few weak-kneed responses we'll be right back to snatching stalemate from the jaws of political victory just as Nehru and Mountbatten did. The debate is long over. Let's move on.

We afford the Hurriyat too much legitimacy for a rag-tag not-representative collection of "leaders". They cannot admit that for them Kashmir is all about the Sunni Muslims in the Valley. The Pandits, the Dogras, the Ladakhis, the Shias of Gilgit be damned.


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