Chile has no “strategic depth” and yet it has won all its wars against its larger neighbours! Poor Bolivia, with plenty of “strategic depth”, not only lost 120,000 mineral-rich square kilometres of its territory (an area about the size of Greece) to Chile, but also its entire coastline and access to the sea. A country that had 400 km of coastline is now landlocked.
(Daily Times, 1 May 2013)
We are supposed to be living in an age of nation-states. But most “nations” are multi-ethnic and most “states” are accidents of history, geo-politics and arbitrary mapping. In any case, it is easier to define a state than a nation, two of the main attributes of a state being recognised borders and the exercise of sovereignty within those borders. Even that is sometimes more fiction than fact.
Be that as it may, I am concerned here with some strange borders, bizarre demarcations and weird frontiers. Many of us have now forgotten what a queer country pre-1971 Pakistan was, divided in two parts, about a thousand miles apart, separated by an adversarial, if not hostile, India.
The American state of Alaska is separated from the rest of the country by Canadian territory, oil-rich Cabinda from Angola by the Republic of the Congo, Nakhichevan from Azerbaijan by Armenia, Oecussi from East Timor by Indonesia, Kaliningrad from Russia by Lithuania, and the Musandam peninsula from Oman by UAE.
If Portugal and Lebanon resemble a child clinging to its mother (Spain and Syria, respectively), then Lesotho seems like a child in a mother’s womb (South Africa). The Indian north-eastern states of Mizoram, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya seem to hold Bangladesh in a stranglehold on India’s behalf. Or, as the Lonely Planet notes, “India’s 1947 partition left the north-eastern states dangling like a crooked cartographic handle.”
Ogaden region of Ethiopia is like a dagger thrust into the torso of Somalia, making the latter resemble the figure 7. The mineral-rich Lubumbashi region of Democratic Republic of Congo does the same to Zambia, reducing the latter to a contorted figure 8.
The Wakhan corridor in the northwest of Afghanistan, the shape of a swan’s neck, was carved out to separate British India (now Pakistan) from Tsarist Russia (then Soviet Union, now Tajikistan). The Caprivi strip of Namibia is a narrow strip of land, 450 km long, shaped like a gun pointed at Namibia’s head. It was “given” to Germany by Great Britain at the Berlin Conference of 1890 as a trade-off.
Spare a thought for Chile, which does look like a chili, although it is not named for that. And there is more to the map of Chile than its shape. Present-day Chile is 4,270 km long and, if wasn’t for its victory in the war against Peru and Bolivia in the late 19th century, it would actually be 700 km or so shorter at the top. At 356 km wide at its widest point and only 64 km at its narrowest, and an average width of 175 km, Chile has no “strategic depth” and yet it has won all its wars against its larger neighbours!
And poor Bolivia, with plenty of “strategic depth”, not only lost 120,000 mineral-rich square kilometres of its territory (an area about the size of Greece) to Chile, but also its entire coastline and access to the sea. A country that had 400 km of coastline is now landlocked. In fact, defeated in every war it has fought, Bolivia has lost nearly two-fifths of its territory to its neighbours.
A thin strip of land only slightly longer than the lake which gives the country its name, and on whose western bank it is situated, Malawi is sandwiched between the far larger Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, the last of which seems to be holding Malawi up in a pincer or being on the verge of devouring it. Gambia, by contrast, straddles the entire length and both banks of the river Gambia, 338 km long and only 47 km wide at its widest point. Embedded entirely inside Senegal, except for an 80-km coastline on the Antarctic Ocean, it could be mistaken for the gut of its far larger neighbor or a worm burrowed inside it.
The world’s second largest island, New Guinea, is vertically split into nearly two equal halves by a quirk of colonial and post-colonial history. The eastern half is now the country of Papua New Guinea, while the western half was annexed to Indonesia in the 1960s through a sham referendum. And the third largest island in the world, Borneo, is divided between three countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia and the relatively tiny, oil-rich state of Brunei. And Brunei itself is split in two by Malaysia’s Sarawak state.
The island of Hispaniola, the place of Christopher Columbus’ first landing in 1492, is divided between two impoverished states, largely inhabited by the descendants of former African slaves: the states of Dominican Republic and Haiti.
North Ossetia is a part of Russia, while South Ossetia belongs to Georgia. The Armenian-inhabited enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, separated from Armenia by the Lachin corridor, which “belongs” to Azerbaijan. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan appear to be locked in a warm handshake thanks to reciprocal, mirror-image territorial penetration. You might even think of it as a yin-yang, if you wish.
Earlier this year, 400 armed supporters of Sultan Kiram, the titular Sultan of Sulu, invaded the Malaysian state of Sabah. His forefathers had owned the territory for centuries until 1878, long before Malaysia and the Philippines were born.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts, inhabited by non-Muslim hill tribes akin to those just to the north in India, was attached to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, to compensate for territory in Assam which he chose to give to India, rather than Pakistan.
The Radcliffe Award demarcated the borders of India and Pakistan, deciding the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people in weeks, without any consultation and totally oblivious to thousands of years of history. “The implementation was no less hasty than the process of drawing the border. On 16 August 1947 at 5:00pm, the Indian and Pakistani representatives were given two hours to study copies, before the Radcliffe award was published on the 17th.” (Wikipedia).
There is nothing logical or rational – even less romantic or mystical – about national borders and state frontiers, though they are held sacred by governments and citizens and for which nations are ready to go to war “to the last drop of blood”.
by Razi Azmi
Respected Razi Sahib, Your encyclopedic knowledge, the eye for detail and ability to put that into words is really amazing. Allah Bless you.