Saturday, August 29, 2009

A border is not an end in itself

Sumantra Bose writes in Contested Lands:
In Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka, borders forged by war have become, or will have to become, the basis of peace settlements. But making a fetish of such borders is neither practicable nor desirable. Recognition of those borders is an essential part of the compromise, driven by pragmatism, and not an end in itself. It is extremely important to construct an architecture of peace that enables systematic cooperation across the borders drawn in blood.

This is important partly because those borders – the Green Lines of Israel-Palestine and Cyprus, the Line of Control in Kashmir, the Inter-Entity Boundary Line in Bosnia, and the border between northeastern Sri Lanka and the rest of the country – are a focal point of contention, where one or more of the parties to the conflict do not agree with the trajectory or even the very legitimacy of those lines as political boundaries. It is also important because in the early twenty-first century, an era defined by globalization and its subphenomenon, regional integration and cooperation, it is simply impossible for communities to live in hermetic segregation from one another in ethnonational ghettos. Soft frontiers and the gradual development of ties of cross-border cooperation are the longer-term anchor for the stability of peace agreements, a vital part of the safety net that must be assured to minorities caught on the “wrong” side of the line, and the path to building a culture of coexistence in the world’s most troubled and turbulent lands. The poet Robert Frost famously wrote that “good fences make good neighbors.” But he also wrote:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

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