Question of state and nation- whether state exist on the basis of its people or if state is somehow an entity with right to suppress the will of people; and what nation is and whether such a thing exist at all- lie at the core of secessionist movements around the world, in areas like Mindanao, Kashmir, Kurdish majority regions, United Kingdom and Catalonia.
In almost every other problem in a country, will of the people living in the concerned region is held to be of supreme authority, but unique aspect of issue of separatist movements is that the people’s supposedly inalienable right of self determination is openly disregarded even by some of the most righteous people and organisations around the world. Catalonia crisis is a good example of this. It was only few years ago that the world was in awe of Germany upholding its principles and morals by accepting the large number of refugees streaming into the country, even at risk of harm or difficulty to itself in trying to integrate the seemingly unmanageable number of refugees. The country’s selfless act made many around the world, including me, to see it as the most upright and righteous country on Earth. But on the issue of Catalonia crisis, Germany is just another country silently condoning the disproportionate response of Spanish government to suppress the will people of the region to decide their future for themselves. The reason most countries do not stand up for any secessionist movements around the world and try to distance themselves from the movement as much as possible is so as not to aggravate any separatist movement in their own country, and also to prevent any balkanization of the area as happened in Yugoslavia.
In discussing this issue, let us first look at the issue of nation. The problem with having difference in ‘nation’ as the the basis of separatist movement is that there is no definite way to separate people into categories like that. The difference in language, culture and history between people will keep on appearing no matter how much we divide people, and there is question of where to stop the whole thing. And attempting to categorize people only blind us to the overwhelming commonality human wide that unite us all. Thus I believe that national or ethnic division is something that no one should care about in most circumstances.
But does this all mean that division that ‘no one should care about’ hold no meaning at all unless in case of discrimination? The answer is no, and some of the most devastating separatist movements around the world are a testament to that. This is because these divisions are as real as people believe it to be, and if people’s desire for self rule according to the perceived division don’t go away even with the arguments above, there is little that can justify preventing the people from pursuing it. And it is something that we have seen people around the world feel strongly enough to even fight and risk their life for.
That is why, if in spite of everything, people still do decide that they want self rule, I believe that it is only right to stand with their right to pursue it. A democratic state exist for the sake of its people. Although no media or government would acknowledge it, the biggest reason a state oppose secession of any of its territory in the first place is the loss of strategic and economic power of the state resulting from it, and it is an unacceptably poor excuse for trampling over people’s will and causing violence and even civil war.
Looking at my own country, this is why Pakistan is right to stand up for the will of Kashmiri people to decide their future for themselves, whether to join Pakistan, India or to establish self rule. But this is not something that only apply to Kashmir, but our individual provinces too. In Pakistan we have separatist movement of some degree in various provinces, which are usually crushed by central government or the army. Disregarding the talk of whether these separatist movements actually have enough support to be significant at all, my stance is that people of province have the right to decide for themselves whether to remain or secede through referendum. As someone from Punjab province which has the least support of any secession, I would be extremely sad to see any province deciding secede and I believe that it would be a bad harmful decision for any province, but I would still stand with the people to decide for themselves. I am also personally confident that none of the province will decide to secede from Pakistan even with referendum.
Although it is true that Muslims don’t believe in any division within its Ummah, with the Muslim world already divided into many states, willingly giving self rule to people who want it create less division than stamping over the people’s wish and causing civil war and never ending conflict. Such conflict between Muslims will also make any future pan Muslim project to unite Muslims impossible because of the amount of hate that will be present between the Muslims.
One source of independence movement around the world is open hate or discrimination by dominant people against people in minority. If the dominant people are unwilling to work to remove the hate and discrimination in the society, I believe that in the circumstance it is right for the minority people to work for independence.
Another source of separatist movement is the danger people see to their sense of identity and their way of life including language and culture. Sense of identity is something complicated that I may decide to talk in more detail in future, but here I will say that I see sense of identity as “feeling of belonging with people who don’t look down on you.” Sense of separate identity is important in a society in which a section of people are discriminated against and derided as inferior. But as long as such a thing don’t exist and the people are free to practice their culture as they please, I believe there is little to justify the use of ‘sense of separate identity’ to to demand a separate state for themselves. We can see from the countless number of ‘ways of life’ that has been buried under time just how meaningless most of them are. People may also talk about living up to the their ancestors, but will of the dead has no bearings on decisions we make today, specially in one in which lives of millions of people are at stake.
One legitimate reason that state may reject demand of referendum may be is geopolitical situation in the the region making creation of a separate state unsustainable. Example of this is in Pakistan where secession of any province will likely lead to fall of the whole region into conflict and anarchy like some other regions in middle east. There are a number of things necessary for allowing of secession to be sustainable, and I believe in the situation like this it is duty of state to work to meet the conditions necessary for the will of the people to be enacted, although it can take a very long time. Geopolitical situation in the region is the reason no referendum can be granted to any province in Pakistan for any foreseeable future.
One possible counter argument against my perspective on the issue of separatism is that it would lead to an even more divided unstable world. Also some hostile states may instigating separatist movement in a country to divide and weaken it. I believe the solution to the problems is the formation of intergovernmental unions like EU, with single market and freedom of movement of people within them. By belonging to such an organisation, even if a country divide, it would not lead to weakening of the organisation as a whole so that there will be less incentive for hostile states to instigate division. The organisation will also insure stability in the region after a secession, and the organisation will make the divisions in the world much less. Thus I believe belonging to such a union is one of the conditions for secession of a part of a country to be possible. Although many would undoubtedly say that what I have put forward is too idealistic and there are many other problems that I fail to discuss. But I nonetheless believe this is our best hope of balancing between people’s right to self rule and more united world with less division.
This is quite a controversial topic, and one I am especially open to variety of opinions to. Please don’t consider what I have put forward as anything more than my opinion.