European Lesson For Kashmir: India, Pakistan Can Look To South Tyrol Solution
30 June 2005
The Times of India
T P Sreenivasan
New Delhi: The South Tyrol formula has elements in it which could apply to Kashmir. Many of the ingredients of the Kashmir drama such as the dissolution of an empire, forceful annexation of territory, friction between two neighbours, UN intervention, terrorism and demand for autonomy have had their play there. Borders did not have to be redrawn in order to give Italy and Austria a sense of satisfaction about the present status of South Tyrol. The dynamic autonomy of the Italian and German populations has made boundaries and even sovereignty redundant. The story of South Tyrol goes back to the days of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in the 19th century when South Tyrol passed to Austria in 1815. An agitation by the Italian minority began soon after, but it was after the First World War that Italy managed to annex the territory and legitimise the annexation through post-war treaties. A Hitler-Mussolini agreement in 1938, which provided for the Germans to move to Germany and the Italians to Italy, was never implemented, as it was unpopular and impractical. Germany reoccupied the territory for a brief period during the Second World War, but it was soon restored to Italy in 1945. The German aspiration for joining Austria or gaining autonomy was a constant cause of tension in the territory. The search for autonomy for the German and Italian populations of the region as a way to resolve the status of South Tyrol began in 1946 when both Italian and German were declared official languages. But the emergence of German terrorism and the friction between Italy and Austria prompted Austria to take the issue to the United Nations in 1960. UN involvement facilitated a bilateral agreement between Austria and Italy in 1971, according to which the German-speaking area, now named Bozen, as part of the Italian region of Trentino- South Tyrol, acquired greater autonomy from Italy. Three autonomy packages were enacted by Italy since 1969, giving more and more autonomy to Bozen. In return, Austria refrained from interfering in the internal affairs of Bozen. The sovereignty question was referred to the International Court of Justice, but with the emergence of the European Union, the issue became more academic than real. Bozen, still called Bolzano by the Italians, is very much an Austrian city today, even though it falls within the borders of Italy. The sister city of Trento remains an Italian city within the region of Trentino- South Tyrol. Most places maintain Italian and Austrian names without any undue confusion. A third community, Ladin, with its own language, also retains its identity and enjoys certain privileges. The greatest merit of the South Tyrol formula is that it does not involve redrawing of maps or resettlement of populations. The linguistic and cultural affinity of the German population to Austria has found expression in their dynamic autonomy, which progressively brings them closer to Austria even within the framework of the Italian nation. But the complexities of the Kashmir issue are all too self-evident to need any elaboration. First and foremost, the South Tyrol issue was never as fundamental to the Austrian state as the Kashmir issue had become to Pakistan. Moreover, religious passion has been absent in the whole dispute, even though linguistic passion can be equally lethal. One can also argue that the South Tyrol formula should apply only to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as the rest of Jammu and Kashmir had never changed hands as a part of the dissolution of the British empire or by any subsequent war. The autonomy formula has not worked in Kashmir so far because Pakistan does not see anything for itself in securing autonomy for Kashmiris. But if dynamic autonomy opens the doors for an eventual determination by the people of Kashmir about their future, Pakistan may see some merit in it. Pakistan's recent inclination to give up the UN resolutions and plebiscite as the basis of a settlement has opened up the autonomy window even further. When some US scholars talked of the Line of Control plus as a formula, they were thinking clearly of autonomy, leaving the territorial issue aside. Talk of soft borders and diminishing importance of boundaries, together with dynamic autonomy may, however, ring alarm bells in India. A former Pakistan ambassador said the only way out in the Kashmir imbroglio was to keep the status quo in other parts of Jammu and Kashmir and establish a joint administration between India and Pakistan in the Valley on the lines originally envisaged for Jerusalem. When I pointed out that the idea did not work in Jerusalem, he surprisingly said that Pakistan could be content with free access to the Valley even if it remained under the control of India. The Nobel prize for peace is assured to the leaders of India and Pakistan if they find a final solution to Kashmir. Among the many pointers may well be Jerusalem and South Tyrol.