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Heartlands of Ethnic Conflict

Udayon Misra

By Sumantra Bose
HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2007, pp. vi 329, Rs. 395.00


This book deals with some of the major heartlands of ethnic conflict in today’s world—Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka. The author presents the centrality of territorial claims and says that the main challenge to peace-making processes lies in the attempts that have been made to resolve these to the satisfaction of the conflicting groups. The book attempts to show through a detailed analysis of the different arenas of conflict the immense and almost intractable difficulties involved in the entire process of drawing stable borders/boundaries between different ethnic nationalities which are trying to carve out distinct political spaces for themselves. Drawing copious examples from Sri Lanka where the Sinhalese majority has been consistently resisting Tamil demands for territorial autonomy and from Bosnia where the Dayton Agreement has been trying to bridge irreconcilable differences between the Serbs, Croats and the Muslims, Sumantra Bose tries to build up the thesis that only through international third party intervention can such conflicts be resolved and real peace be achieved. However, an obvious flaw in Bose’s argument seems to be his persistent espousal of US intervention in conflict zones as the only way towards conflict resolution. He seems to have unquestioning and implicit faith in American diplomacy backed by military prowess and says as much in his Introduction: ‘The identity of the third party (or parties) varies across the cases in this book, from Norway in Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Cyprus and the United States in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as does the nature of the third party’s role. Yet a strong case emerges for the deployment of American leverage or influence from the examples of Bosnia (where the late 1995 peace agreement that terminated the war was engineered by purposeful diplomatic intervention backed up by military power), Israel-Palestine, and even Kashmir’ (p. 3). Again in the concluding chapter, Bose clearly states: ‘This book has argued that the United States holds unique leverage and influence, globally and in particular world regions, that equip it to play the role of constructive third party with decisive results. If played well, such a role can significantly enhance American interests and American prestige across the world’ (emphasis added). At least the author has the candour to admit that American interests have always been uppermost in that nation’s peace initiatives and that this has, at least in the case of Palestine, contributed greatly ...

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