South Sudan freedom: When is it Kashmir’s turn?

Youth protesting, last month, against 'rape' of 25-year-old Ruqaiya Bano of Manzgam, Kulgam- 75 kms from Srinagar.

           By Kim Andersen

Six months after South Sudan voted for independence of the Muslim dominated North Sudan, the new born country declared its independence the 9th of July. As for all newborn, the reception is pivotal, and the reception of South Sudan has been good. The Danish government declared South Sudan its primary task. Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has also welcomed South Sudan, which, according to Khaleej Times, he “wishes it much success”. Big players such as China and the United States too recognise the new state. Especially China wants to be South Sudan’s “friend”. Another Security Council member, Russia, has likewise joined the club of recognising countries which also includes the European Union, thus making it unlikely that the Security Council will be a hurdle for the new country.

Explaining South Sudan

South SudanThe American scholar, Joseph Nye, analysed international politics through three different linses. He argued that it is important to observe a systemic level or image, followed by a national and a personal image. Classical international politics theory such as realism and its variants and forks are known as systemic theories (first image), whereas theories that emphasize national circumstances belong to the national image (second image). Alexander Lebed’s threat against the West during the civil war in Yugoslavia could be categorised as a national image explanation. He wanted to send a signal to the Russians who feel kinship with Serbia more than actually threatening the West. Finally, theories that stress the personal qualities belong to the personal image (third image). Attempts to explain World War Two by stressing Hitler’s qualities are such theories. To fully understand the recognition of South Sudan, Nye’s framework is applied albeit in a reversed order.

Third image applicators might argue that Omar al-Bashir is a blessing in disguise for the South Sudanese. He fell from grace when he did not intervene to stop the violence in the Sudanese province of Darfur. Hence his ability to defend the continuing unification of Sudan became almost impossible. This argument is not sufficient, because it is highly unlikely that the negative perception of a leader is enough. Second image theory might stress Darfur but also the referendum which did send a clear signal to the rest of the world. Almost 100 percent of those who voted (almost a 100 percent turnout), voted in favour of independence. These arguments are strong, but as the Kosovan case depicts, even strong support in favour of independence is not enough to trigger recognition. Here it is important to make a pivotal distinction between independence and recognition. While it is possible to gain independence, gaining recognition is a completely different thing. First image theory is able to explain this much better than any other theory.

In its very essence, neorealist theory is very pragmatic. First of all, it recognises that the international society is nothing but a word, and that the world is a violent place, and that states just want to survive. Hence they built up according to their capabilities (geography, resources, military etc.). Various traditions stress balancing towards either the greatest threat or the greatest power. However, what is important to understand is that it is all about survival. Within (political) science, treating a case sui generis or idiographic is unproductive. However, a government might evaluate one case different from the other case. Hence, Russia which resists Kosovo independence because of its similarity with their own Chechen problem, might deem the recognition of South Sudan a completely different case that do not poses any threat to her. The very same logic applies to China and to Spain. Hence, the realist explanation is that recognition of South Sudan does not pose a threat towards any of the mentioned countries. Just like second and third image theories have problems, so do first image. The central problem is its blindness towards the virtues of the other images. Notice that Russia as a state observes differences in the country in question. Hence, it observes differences in the second and third images.

The brief discussion depicted above lends credence to an approach, which embraces all three images and thereby politics as a whole. Thus the recognition of Sudan is vested in an unpopular president and a popular demand, which makes the case of such a character that it is not of any danger to any major power with the ability to veto the recognition in the United Nation’s Security Council.

What about Kashmir?

The brief analysis posed above urges a similar analysis on the question of Kashmir this time in Nye’s order. Whereas second and third image analyses are based on different circumstances, because different countries are in question, the fundamental assumption regarding the systematic or first image has not changed. That is the assumptions regarding the world has not changed. First of all, Russia, China etc. have assessed that recognition of South Sudan does not pose a threat to their survival, the recognition of Kashmir might pose a different threat to both India and Pakistan. This might be why neither India nor Pakistan have been willing to discuss the question of independence. To fully understand the Kashmiri situation, it is important to understand India and Pakistan because these countries are pivotal to global recognition.

Youth protesting, last month, against ‘rape’ of 25-year-old Ruqaiya Bano of Manzgam, Kulgam- 75 kms from Srinagar.

Another way to observe first image theory is to observe Kashmir. Today it is a part of India, China and Pakistan, and as such a recognition of Kashmir as independent will change the political borders of involved countries. Since India is a federation, the Indian government might fear that other more rebellious states might try to emancipate themselves from India. Much of this logic can also be applied to China, which struggles with secessionist groups in Tibet and Xinjian. In 2008 BBC reports that there were riots in Lhasa, Tibet’s state capital, and more than 150 people were killed and almost a thousand were wounded in protests in Xinjiang in 2009. This might be a rather bold analysis. Perhaps the real reason is the animosity between India and Pakistan that make India very reluctant towards any Kashmiri independence. Since Kashmir is Muslim, India and China might also fear that Kashmir will be another enemy to be handled. This lends credence to the assumption regarding survival.

Exactly because of the animosity between India and Pakistan, giving up Kashmir might be perceived negatively by the Indian population and thus they might punish the incumbent government. Such second image understandings clearly stresses that even if India were not potentially threatened by giving up Kashmir, giving in to an old enemy might prevent any pro-independence move from the Indian side. It is highly unlikely that any emancipation of Kashmir might make the Chinese population punish their government. Second image analysis on China might yield results that will not deliver any different result. China might feel that giving up Kashmir might lead to a path similar to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which in China has been dubbed a negative case of learning (The China Beat has a piece about Thomas Bernstein who wrote a book on the subject.)

Pakistan might be seen as an ally of Kashmir, but even Pakistan might be jeopardised by an independent Kashmir. This has to be understood by observing Pakistani difficulties in getting control of the North West Frontier Province, as the Economist reports in 2008, Taliban is using it as a base. Seen from a (neo)realist perspective any independence of Kashmir will threaten the cohesion of Pakistan, yet second image analysis might argue that any such move from the Islamabad elite might give them a popular boost. And it might even highten their position among other Muslim countries world wide.

Future recognition

As it is right now there is too much at stake, which clearly makes recognition of Kashmir as an independent state impossible. India will never give in to its old enemy. And the world will not force a recognition upon India and especially China. This will be equal to a forced recognition upon Russia vis-à-vis Chechnya or China and Xinjian. Hence, no great power state will accept forced recognition because it sets a precedence that will threaten their survival. Thus if the Kashmiris want independence, they need to wait for improvements in the Indo-Pakistani relationship. Hereafter, a popular referendum on the question of independence needs to be conducted. Pakistan is torn by the question of cohesion but popular support as a result of independence and future recognition of Kashmir. If they get more than 90 percent support of independence, it might be easier for the world community to accept and recognise. However, everything is dependent on India’s view on the question. India has to accept it.

Kim Andersen is student of Politics in Aarhus University, Denmark. He also works with openDemocracy. His main interests are communication and international politics.

Photo: Caelainn Hogan (Top), Shahid Tantray (Bottom)


  1. I think one of the reasons why South Sudan was accorded the diplomatic recognition rather soon was due to the fact that they had the majority of the oil reserve in their territory…and we know how oil makes other countries act.


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