by Serge Berthier

Among the emails Asian Affairs has received today, there is one from Amsterdam. It is from the organization that wants a Nagaland, that is a country carved out of India where the rights of the Naga people would be paramount.

Amsterdam is in Europe, and for long it was the place where East Timorese supporters of the independence received shelter and support in their war against Jakarta. A rich city of the former colonial power of Indonesia might have some reason to be linked somehow with events taking place in its former Asian dominions. Generally, former colonial powers feel that their knew role is to make amend for the sins of the past.

But one may wonder what the link was between the Naga people, who are living in the Northern part of India and the Netherlands. One hope that it is not some mercantile reason such as the ease with which the Netherlands was handing out assistance and refuge to any suspected or self-proclaimed victim of history.

Of course, the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, have a long history of involvement with the rest of the world. They were the heart of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch, literally "United East Indies Company"). Established on March 20, 1602, when the government of the Netherlands granted it a monopoly to carry out Dutch colonial activities in Asia, VOC was the richest company the world had ever seen, with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, a private army of 10,000 soldiers, and paid a dividend of 40%. In Asia, it was present in what are now Indonesia, Japan, and even Bengal. Amsterdam merchants have therefore a long history of meddling with the daily life of people they have never met. And the consequences are still with us, as in East Timor, the newest of the countries of this world, but also the poorest of the poorest.

But today, what was at six months’ journey is one keyboard’s key away. Internet has reduced the distance between dream and reality to nothing. And therefore dreams are becoming fashionable and endemic.

The story of the Naga wild hope for independence would be a romantic subject for a novelist. Unfortunately on the ground, it translates into death, about 150,000 as regards the Naga. And destruction and endless poverty are generally the ensuing result rather than peace and prosperity. All in the name of democratic values that provide cover for greed and power.

The roots of the Indo-Naga conflict lie in obscure decisions made more than 50 years ago by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The same could be said of the fate of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, isolated pieces of rocks near Taiwan, and even of the big island itself.

At a time the most powerful of the West, the United States, is losing its soul in Iraq in more than one way, it is maybe necessary to look at the past to see how the future is likely to evolve if we don’t change our mindset about what democracy means. For It is in the name of democracy that the United States started its crusade against the “tyrant” of Baghdad and it is in the name of democracy that Taiwan, the Naga people, and many others, want their fair share of this world.

But democracy requires humility not arrogance or blinded belief in one creed or another. It is first and foremost a concept, a state of mind and an attitude, not a form of power. When power is associated to the concept, democracy becomes an absolute tyranny, in facts or in thoughts, as the Taiwanese may realize later at an enormous price.

Those little conflicts are a clear example of the weight of history and the misconception the people and the politicians have about their respective role.

It is Nehru that declared on September 17, 1953, "Whether it is Kashmir or any other part, we are not going to hold it by the strength of arms. Mature nations as we are ... we have to show our maturity by trying to understand things, by saying and acting in a manner that helps, not hinders."

But this man who said, "Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people” being judged by his own words, misled his people who believed he was a man of peace when he was a man of war. That is the difference between a dreamer and a statesman. If as he said “It is the habit of every aggressor nation to claim that it is acting on the defensive”, then 50 years later, there are ample reasons to believe that he led India to use force every time she was confronted with the reality. Thus he created a myriad of tragic problems that no politician could ever solve.

In this issue of Asian Affairs, we have selected problems affecting the two largest countries of the world, China and India. We asked some security experts to express their views on problems ranging from the China-Japan clash of mind over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the India-China relationship or lack of it, the Taiwan/China saga, the Naga and other insurgencies in India, the role of United States in those conflicts if any, etc…

Solutions when talking about security matters are limited to two options: a surrender to reality, which on the ground translates generally into a transfer of political power of one kind or another, or a continual confrontation that ups the ante for more war and death to a level that both parties are unlikely to stomach. In short, the choice is between diplomatic solutions, in essence artificial constructions accepted by both parties, and force.

Because History is always a tale of human greed and miscalculations, not a tale of happiness, ever after, it is important that politicians remain modest in their expectation. This issue of Asian Affairs deals with lack of modesty and probably miscalculation of some sort and their long-term consequences.

Thus it was not surprising that the ink of this issue was not even dried when President Chen declared on November 28, 2004 that, contrary to his earlier pledge, he had after all decided to hold a referendum in 2006 to push through a new constitution, which he said would be suitable for Taiwan. This pledge is unlikely to help the confidence-building measures (CBMs) that Chen Yi-lin considered a must to maintain peace between China and Taiwan.

So we let the reader decide if we are heading for a more stable word, as President Bush believes, or an unstable one as the rest of us believes.

Serge Berthier