In the wake of the Arab Spring, many have looked at the Middle East Region with amazement and genuine hope for a better future for the plagued Arabs. Giants such as Mubarak and Qadaffi have fallen, and as transition governments prepare for transition to democracy, the culprit lies in the detail.
For the last hundred years or so, the Middle East has not demonstrated functional democracies. With the exception of Israel (and perhaps the Palestinian Authority), the Middle East is one of the least democratic and most repressive regions in the world. While many right wing commentators in Europe has argued that Islam is incompatible with democracy, the American scholar, Larry Diamond argues that it is not religion that is the determining factor. One essential factor is the resource curse or the problem with oil. Most Arab states have access to oil, and thus do not need to involve the people in the state. Put it differently, they can pay the people to leave state business to the elite. This is the reasoning behind for example Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, and oil might also dampen the ability to create democracy in Libya as well as to consolidate democracy in Iraq.
Another problem is related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Diamond argues that it poisons the public climate, and thus it becomes a mean, by which elites can divert attention from matters at home to matters in Israel and Palestine. The Muhammed (pbuh) cartoon-crisis somewhat echoes this argumentation as rulers were able to divert attention from home to “infidels in the north”.
Taking Diamond’s arguments at face value, Kashmir as an independent democratic state might not be impossible. Its neighbors are to a certain extent democratic. And oil might not be as big an issue as in the Middle East. Finally, while many Kashmiris would argue that Indian governance is nothing but a plague, it might exercise and create the foundation for an institutional development in Kashmir that at a later point can materialise as those institutions, Kashmir needs. In other words, India is implicitly building the institutional foundation for an independent Kashmir.
One essential challenge to the cohesion of Kashmir lies in its demographics. The far majority of Kashmiris are Muslims, yet there is a significant minority that belongs to Hinduism. Any attempt to favour the majority on behalf of the minority might spark centrifugal effects that can lead to a secession of the Hindu parts of Kashmir. This proposition is based on the assumption that they live more or less together as the Russian minority in Ukraine.
Ukraine might prove to be exactly the model, Kashmir can be built upon of several reasons. Many feared that Ukraine would disintegrate precisely because of a strong minority living close to each other. However, giving this minority a stake in the Ukrainian state made them stay. They simply got a better deal in Ukraine than in neighboring Russia. Thus, an independent Kashmir must “simply” give the Hindus something, they cannot get in India.
Kim Andersen is a Political science student at Aarhus University, Denmark.