Pluralistic states, still grappling with problems of strengthening national unity, while cherishing religious, ethnic and cultural diversities, are now confronted with the challenge of how to deal with the unilateral declaration of independence by the Muslim-majority Kosovo region of Serbia. Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia since the 12th century, with the invading Ottomans defeating the outnumbered Serbs in the epic battle of Kosovo in 1389, before it was eventually absorbed in the Ottoman Empire in 1455. Ottoman rule, which ended in 1912, resulted in a steady influx of Albanian Muslims, with Muslims becoming a majority during the 19th century.
Following the Nazi depredations of World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous region of the People's Republic of Serbia, as a member of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia. Throughout the 20th century the relationship between the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosovo remained tense and violent.
With the disintegration of Socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s, tension rose in the Balkans. The Clinton Administration joined the European Union in dubbing Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic as a "new Hitler". Following 78 days of relentless bombing of Serbia by the US in 1999, Kosovo was placed under a transitional UN Administration, under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The UN Resolution reaffirmed "the commitment of all member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which the Federal Republic of Serbia was the Successor state. It also established a requirement that the post-conflict constitutional process must take full account of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Serbia. In practical terms, however, Kosovo became a NATO-EU protectorate, with the deployment of NATO forces and EU administrators to run the region.
The danger of appointing politicians from monolithic Scandinavian countries, with no experience of problems of reconciling the imperatives of national unity with the demands of minorities, became evident when the UN appointed Mediator and former President of Finland Marti Ahtissari delivered a draft proposal to the UN for "supervised independence" for Kosovo in total disregard of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. This plan was considered by a three-member group comprising former US envoy to India Frank Wisner, Russian representative Alexander Khuchenko and EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger. They failed to agree on the future status of Kosovo, with the Russians refusing to countenance any end to Serbian sovereignty.
The Russians believe, not without good reason, that the Americans and their NATO allies see developments in Kosovo as part of larger strategy of "containment" of Russia, through the expansion of NATO and even by tacitly backing separatism in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia. Differences over Kosovo also reflect tension between Russia on the one hand and the EU and the US on the other over access to the oil resources of the former Soviet Union.
Despite its declaration of independence, Kosovo is set to remain a protectorate of the European Union, administered by more than 2,000 EU officials, with its security ensured by a large NATO troop presence. This is perhaps what Mr Ahtisarri envisaged when he spoke of "supervised independence". It has been noted that such 'independence' enables the Americans to maintain a strategic military base at Camp Bondsteel in the breakaway region - the largest American military base to come up in Europe over the last generation.
Moreover, the Americans appear to have plans through 'AMBO' -- the Albania, Macedonia, Bulgarian Oil Corporation, registered in the US -- to build a trans-Balkans oil pipeline. This pipeline, bypassing Russia, will bring oil from the Caspian Sea to terminals in Georgia and then by tanker through the Black Sea to the Bulgarian port of Burgas and then relay it through Macedonia to the Albanian port of Vlora, for shipment to refineries in Rotterdam and the US west coast.
An astute observer recently noted: "Clinton's war against Yugoslavia and pro-Albania (stance) was thus crucial to secure Vlora's strategic location." Both Mr Bill Clinton's Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and US Vice-President Dick Cheney reportedly have longstanding links with Halliburton, the company that prepared the AMBO feasibility study for the oil transport corridor.
Despite the haste with which the US and its NATO allies -- the UK, Germany and France -- have recognised Kosovo, there are serious differences within the EU about according recognition. Countries like Spain, Cyprus, Greece and Rumania have expressed reservations. Individual EU countries have, therefore, been given the freedom to choose their own course of action. Similarly, though the Organisation of Islamic Conference has welcomed the declaration of independence, only a few Islamic countries like Albania and Turkey have thus far recognised the separatist entity.
In Africa, South Africa has called for further negotiations for a settlement acceptable to both Serbs and Albanians. While Bangladesh has been cautious, Pakistan "supports the legitimate aspirations of the Kosovars" without yet according formal recognition. With the LTTE describing developments in Kosovo as a precedent for a 'Tamil Eelam', Sri Lanka has asserted that it will not recognise the separatist entity. Within ASEAN, with the exception of Malaysia, other members have varying degrees of concern about these developments in Kosovo, with Vietnam categorically opposing recognition.
Both India and China have reservations about events in Kosovo. New Delhi has spoken of the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states and expressed the belief that the issue should have been resolved through consultations and dialogue between the concerned parties. Mr Manmohan Singh's Government seems to disregard the implications of such diplomatic obfuscation.
Separatists in Jammu & Kashmir are overjoyed, with Shabir Shah hailing 'Kosovo's independence struggle' and asserting that the day is "not far of when Kashmir will be free". His compatriot, Yasin Malik, has appealed to the "world community, especially the EU, to play a Kosovo-like role to get the dispute in Kashmir settled". The head of the US-based 'Khalistan Affairs Centre', Amarjit Singh, too, has welcomed developments in Kosovo and proclaimed that India's views are coloured by the "aspirations of a number of 'nations' like Kashmir, Assam and Nagalim in general and Khalistan in particular".
India is a pluralistic, secular country which barely a generation ago faced the trauma of partition, driven by religion. It has no option but to join Russia and other like-minded countries in denying legitimacy to separatism in Kosovo.