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5 Oct, 2009 10:44

India & Pakistan choose “peaceful fight”

Over the years, relations between India and Pakistan have been marred by military conflict and territorial disputes. Daily fighting still continues on the border, but it has become a popular tourist attraction.

Patriotic rivalry between India and Pakistan reaches a crescendo at the Wagah border crossing, 500 kilometres north of New Delhi.

“Theater of operations”

The dramatic closing ceremony held there every evening is famous around the world, with thousands of visitors, both local and from overseas, attending the enthusiastic display of patriotism.

The atmosphere there is really charged up with audiences on both sides of the border egging on their respective soldiers in a show of national power. But the display of aggression is carefully choreographed, so that no one actually oversteps the line.

“Border forces do it simultaneously, coordinate their actions,” Himmat Singh, Inspector General of the Border Security Force.

“That adds color to the whole thing. Since it has been continuing for a number of years, it has become an attraction for a lot of people who want to see. And both the forces try to outperform the other.”

“Litmus border”

In its own way, the border at Wagah is a barometer of the relationship between the two often hostile countries. Several years ago, when relations were warmer, there were plans to boost trade and to ease crossings. However, with the Mumbai attacks last year, there is now increased tension in every move.

“From a person who comes from where there is a big conflict – I am from Israel, we have the conflict with Arabs – it’s a very nice way to take out the aggression without actual violence. No blood,” said Amit Bahat, a tourist.

Joginder Singh’s farm is located right at the border. He says he works around the inevitable security presence:

“Whenever the Pakistani border guards come on patrol, we move some distance back from the border. Our farming continues – we don’t face any problems.”

The 550 kilometer-long section of the border that runs through Punjab is considered peaceful, unlike the section through Kashmir. Himmat Singh says that there have been two recent incidents of firing from the Pakistani side, however, which he claims is unprecedented:

“It’s an established international boundary which both the countries respect. Incidents like this have never happened before, except for the one of July, 4. This is the second incident since then. Normally it has been a peaceful border, but with problems of smuggling.”

Given the strained relations between India and Pakistan, it comes as some relief that relatively mundane problems like drug smuggling can take center stage at the thin line separating the two countries.