This weekend has seen bloodshed in both Palestine and Kashmir, two of the longest running geopolitical conflicts on earth, alongside the civil war(s) in Myanmar. But where there exists at least some international impetus to reduce the scale of violence in Myanmar through various peace plans, most notably the Chinese authored peace process for Rakhine State, the conflicts in Palestine and Kashmir continue to smoulder. In the last three days, 17 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators have been killed and thousands have been injured while 4 Kashmiri civilians have been killed and 13 Kashmiri freedom fighters died in clashes with occupying Indian forces.
While there is a temptation to compare the plight of Palestinians and Kashmiris to one another because of the wider world consistently failing to address their right to peace and self-determination, there are important differences.
Settler colonialism versus poor unjust political geography
Occupied Palestine remains one of the last vestiges of settler colonialism not only in the Arab world, but in the entire world. While the middle of the 20th century saw dozens of Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries break-free of imperial rule and colonial occupation, Palestine remains occupied by a Europeanist regime that answers only to itself and whose major allies are among the countries that once colonised vast swaths of Asia and Africa.
Kashmir – a hostage to colonial geography
The roots of the Kashmir problem are not those which lie in settler colonialism but one which lies in unjust political geography being enshrined into modern borders which became disputed virtually as soon as they were drawn. Rather than assess the local realities of what was then the British created Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir and give all majority Muslim areas to what would eventually become the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, instead, the British authorities allowed the local prince Hari Singh to decide whether to join India, Pakistan or neither. Ultimately he opted for neither in a moment that can only be described as one of indecision and attempted compromise – one which averted questioning the efficacy of any princely state in an era of increasing global republicanism and anti-monarchical liberation struggles.
In 1947, under pressure from the British Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten, Hari Singh agreed to join India, thus beginning a problem of a majority Muslim population being deprived of the self-determination to live in either in Pakistan or in a fraternal independent state that reflects the Islamic characteristics of the local population.
As radical Indian governments such as the current Hindutva BJP government of Narendra Modi continue to pursue increasingly discriminatory policies aimed at Muslims, the people of occupied Kashmir continue to suffer more an more.
Donbass – a hostage to poor Soviet geography and unjust post-Soviet nationalism
The history of Kashmir is not dissimilar to the history of the wider Donbass region. Donbass is the heartland of the Russian Revolution, built in the 19th century on sparely populated territory that was initially became part of Russia after a serious of Russo-Turkish wars in the 18th century. By 1764, the area had been incorporated into Novorossiya and the once barren area became increasingly populated by Russians. In the 19th century, Russia worked to turn the city of Donbass, the city now known as Donetsk, into a leading industrial centre, particularly in respect to coal mining.
From its modern founding until 1991, Donetsk and Donabss more widely had always been ruled by St. Petersburg or Moscow, including during the Russian Civil War when the area became a largely pro-Bolshevik centre. Except for a brief period of attempted rule from the German client statelte called the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the Donbass region was consistently aligned with a wider pan-Russian state whether the Tsarist state or later, the Soviet state.
After the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik government incorporated Donbass into Soviet Ukrainian, something which hardly mattered at the time in an area of Soviet rule. However, in 1991 when the USSR was illegally broken apart, Donbass became incorporated into a Republic of Ukraine where it never belonged, just as the Muslim majority regions of Kashmir never logically should have belonged to India.
Fascist Kiev and BJP India – how political extremism adds fuel to the fire
Just as India has become more radical under periods of rule by the Hindutva BJP, so too did Kiev become more radical after a 2014 western backed coup in Kiev which brought neo-fascist elements to power. As a result, the people of the Donbass cities of Donetsk and Lugansk decided to declare their independence and since then have been largely successful in remaining free of Kiev’s fascist rule.
Logic would dictate that both Kashmir and Donbass were placed in the wrong country when a previous sovereign unit collapsed. In the case of Kashmir, the mistake was made during the collapse of British imperial rule and in the case of Donbass, the mistake was made during the collapse of fraternal Soviet rule. The results however have been unfair to both and in reality more unfair to Kashmir, based on the fact that while the Donbass Republics have been largely successful in keeping Kiev’s forces out, Kashmir remains not only politically occupied but physically occupied by Indian troops who have displayed a historic disregard for human rights among Kasmiris.
Interpreting trends in global sympathy
While Kashmir’s plight continues to receive attention in South Asian media and Donbass’s plight is discussed in wider pan-Russian media, the issue of Palestine is far more discussed at a global level. While there is a temptation to say that this is due to some international prejudice against Kashmiris and Donbass people, largely there is another reason for this, not least because wealthy western mainstream media outlets continue to promote disparaging views of Arabs, Russians and Asian Muslims simultaneously.
The only just and logical solution for Kashmir and Donbass is to either join Pakistan and Russia, respectively, or else become independent units with close economic and political ties to Islamabad and Moscow, respectively. In this sense, Kashmir and Donbass are like the missing puzzle pieces that have been erroneously and unjustly left out of a larger whole to which they culturally and spiritually belong.
By contrast, the plight of Palestine is one of settler colonialism where a foreign peoples took boats, trains and planes to Palestine in order to settle a land that belonged to someone else. The history of post-1948 Palestine therefore is similar to the modern history of South Africa when white settlers from western Europe invited themselves to take over the land of indigenous African peoples.
While South Africa’s colonial settlement by various European peoples took place over a period of centuries while the colonial settlement of Palestine begun only in the 20th century, both countries now face the problem reconciling indigenous populations with people who are ethnically foreign. South Africa has opted for an internal peace process combining equality of all South Africans before the law combined with economic affirmative action initiatives that are not dissimilar from those which became prominent in late 1960s/early 1970s Malaysia. In Russian majority Donbass or Muslim majority Kashmir, there is no such problem.
There is no doubt that the peoples of Kashmir, Palestine and Donbass have suffered in manners which are equally unfair, unjust and unconscionable. However, to understand workable solutions to the conflicts, one must first address the root causes of the problems in order to see why even though all suffering is equally bad, the sources of this suffering are unique in their origins.