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Please end the daily tamasha at Wagah

By Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)
March 05, 2010 15:09 IST
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It is the sad fate of any and every security analyst to be bugged with the 'Pakistan' bogey. Even Indians travelling abroad are often quizzed by foreigners on this 'enfant terrible' of a nation. My reaction is generally to just smile and get on with other issues. But we as Indians must understand why this happens.

Take a sample of any newspaper/television news channel and we find that 'international' coverage is dominated by Pakistan. Our politicians, both the ruling combine and opposition, are no exception.

We even have a junior minister of external affairs (yes the one who tweets first and thinks later and had hijacked Indian prestige in an unsuccessful attempt to become UN Secretary General some years ago) talking out of turn on this issue.

For an Indian politician, there is no better way to stay in limelight than to speak on, what else, Pakistan! Recently even a film star adroitly exploited this national obsession to get free publicity for his film.

Indian diplomats have years tried to get our international relations de-hyphenated from Pakistan, unsuccessfully. Here is an attempt to take the first baby step towards this goal of rational thinking and behaviour by Indians.

Yes, I refer to the 'tamasha' that is carried out at the Wagah border under the guise of flag-lowering ceremony. Those of us with armed forces background are aghast at the goose stepping, aggressive staring match that our BSF jawans indulge in with Pakistani Rangers. Flag lowering is a solemn ceremony and tradition goes back to the days when fighting used to end at sunset. But what happens at Wagah is caricature of this ceremony and does not sit well on a mature and confident nation.

The need and necessity for Pakistan to do all this is self evident. That country is founded on hate. But by participating in this mindless display of 'jingoism' (not confident nationalism), we Indians descend to the level of Pakistan.

Wagah is not the only border point where the tricolour flies. We have a similar post at Nathu La on the Indo-Tibet border, with Burma at Moreh and I am sure with Bangladesh as well as Nepal and Bhutan. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of tamasha does not take place at those places. Some years ago, the Chinese used to broadcast anti-India abuse in Hindi at Nathu La. But we never retaliated. Eventually the Chinese stopped their mischief.

India is a billion-strong country with a thriving economy is not in competition with Pakistan. We are certainly not at par in any respect. Then why do we give this opportunity to our recalcitrant neighbour to insult us? It is time the home minister instructed the BSF to move the flag post about 100 yards inside where we can carry out our own dignified ceremony. At the zero point itself, we should have normal defences and bunkers and BSF jawans posted in full battle gear. If Pakistan wants to continue its 'goosesteps' drill, so be it. We should refuse to be part of it all.

One hopes that this will be a first essential step in our disproportionate attention to our Western neighbour. One understands that Delhi being so close to the border there is the natural inclination to give more attention to Pakistan but must one billion people be held hostage by a bunch of people with a nostalgia for 'Lahori culture'?

May be, just may be, if this small step is taken then the message will go home to all and sundry to stop shooting their mouths on Pakistan. Some time ago, a young general secretary of the Congress had raised this very issue -- why do we pay so much attention to this epicentre of world terror? Well despite my not being a member of Indian International Centre in New Delhi, this sensible suggestion will find takers.

Image: Soldiers of the Border Security Force and Pakistani Rangers perform the Beating the Retreat ceremony, a daily ritual, at the India and Pakistan joint check post at Wagah border. Photograph: Munish Sharma/Reuters.

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Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)