Retreat ceremony unaffected by border tensions



Attari: It's a military ceremony that never fails to arouse nationalist emotions as Indian and Pakistani flags are lowered at sunset at the Attari-Wagah border gates amid much pomp and jingoism. And so it has been all these past days despite the tensions along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

In fact, the Retreat has been as intense as the outrage generated after the killing and decapitation of two Indian solders by the Pakistani Army in the Mandher sector of the Jammu region and the exchanges of fire between rival soldiers.

On Friday evening, and even earlier in the week, things were no different.

Every seat on the Indian side of the border was taken by a nearly 10,000-strong crowd which watched the synchronised drill by India's Border Security Force (BSF) troopers and their Pakistani counterparts, the Pakistan Rangers.

The posturing by both sides, especially the Pakistani troopers, is as aggressive, even though this has nothing to do with the LoC flare-up.

Both sides had toned down the aggressive posturing, like mocking with thumbs, stamping of feet and the "dare you" body language to some extent in the last couple of years, even though the parameters of the ceremony have remained largely the same.

"The playing of patriotic songs, slogans, stamping of feet and the rest of the ceremony are all on as in the past. The events of the LOC have not affected anything here. The movement of trade through trucks, people and the bus service from Attari-Wagah is all normal," a BSF officer told a news agency at Attari, 30 km from Amritsar.

However, the movement of trucks and the cross-border bus service have been impacted at the Rawalkote crossing in Jammu to the south.

In sum, the border guards of both the countries are giving the impression that things are absolutely normal at Attari-Wagah. This was also so when the two countries almost came to war in the wake of the December 13, 2001, attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi has blamed on Islamabad - and before that during the 1999 Kargil war.

A number of people could be seen watching the Retreat from the Pakistani side of the border gate as well. Their number, however, as always was much lower compared to those on the Indian side.

"Despite the cold wave and foggy conditions, the enthusiasm of the crowds coming here to watch the Retreat has not been affected," said Harbans Lal, a shopkeeper near the border gate.

Thankfully, the Retreat, like the Indus Waters Treaty, has endured despite the intermittent India-Pakistan tensions.

IANS