Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Now that he’s got it By: Kamran Shafi

Various excuses are being trotted out by the apologists of the government and of the brass hats regarding the three-year (!) extension granted to Gen Kayani by what seemed to many an unnerved and bamboozled prime minister.

The most laughable of all: “Well, a three-year extension is not really appropriate but now that he has got it”...etcetera. Another is that he should have gotten the extension because of the army’s successes in Fata and Swat; yet another that since many soldiers have died in the war on terror, this extension to their ultimate commander should have been given. Now that he’s got it, I can only ask if those actually in the line of fire have also gotten extensions.

For many years have I, as a citizen of Pakistan and the subcontinent, and as a former soldier, campaigned for the toning down of the ridiculous and completely inappropriate and exaggerated drill movements of the Pakistan Rangers and the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel during the Wagah flag-lowering ‘ceremony’ conducted every evening to jingoistic slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Jai Hind” from the assembled and frenzied crowd assembled on specially-built observation stands on either side of the border.

Not only is the spectacle aggressive and belligerent, it is downright brainless, showing the rest of the world in no uncertain manner the hostile behaviour of Indians and Pakistanis when they deal with each other officially. The news, then, as published in this newspaper of record of July 22 telling us that the BSF had suggested during the biannual meeting held in India in March this year that the aggression in the daily parade should be toned down because of knee and joint injuries to the soldiers came as a pleasant surprise.

Here one has to appreciate the Indians for taking the first step in this matter of lowering the aggressive actions, and to castigate our side for not taking the initiative. I must add that in my writings on the subject I had always called upon Pakistan to take the first step towards civilising the ceremony so that the rest of the world might stop sniggering at us for our infantile behaviour. I had pointed out that the flags of many countries are lowered at their borders with other countries with grace and dignity and elegance. Well done, India, for taking the first step.

We are also told that whilst the Pakistani side agreed to some of the aggressive actions such as the showing of fists and the thumbing of thumbs at each other during the drill being toned down, the DG of the Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) still feels that the “intensity of foot-pressing and leg-stretching” (the Ranger’s words, not mine) would not be discontinued, arguing that those were “the symbols of an active parade and a soldier’s fitness”.

Wrong, general, completely wrong. The ‘foot-pressing’ aka the banging of heels might be considered sort of alright (even though it kills brain cells faster than they can be regenerated), the ‘leg-stretching’ has no place in the drill manual, unless the Rangers have a drill manual all their own.

The drill manual stipulates that the knee will not go above belt level when coming to the halt or turning during parade. Let alone the knee, the Rangers and BSF soldiers actually lift their feet to head level which is completely against all rules and regulations. Let me add that if the DG Rangers wants his soldiers’ fitness to improve he should order a longer physical training period for them and institute other physical training standards such as the nine-mile run.

Excessive ‘foot-pressing’ will only make very stupid soldiers of his troops. If the Indians stole the march on us in taking the first steps towards toning down the silly so-called ‘ceremony’ to some extent, we Pakistanis should take it further and stop ‘foot-pressing’ and ‘leg-stretching’ immediately if not sooner. Let both these countries enter the ranks of the civilised world sooner rather than later, eschewing false bravado and braggadocio.

To other matters now, and it is to be appreciated too that Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna of India has castigated the Indian interior secretary for queering the pitch for the India-Pakistan talks recently concluded on a bitter note in Islamabad by referring to David Headley’s inconclusive and untested-as-yet evidence on the ISI’s direct role in the Mumbai attacks.

On our part we should understand that whether Mr Krishna or the Indian foreign secretary rang Delhi once or 17 times during the talks in Islamabad it was a matter for the Indians alone. It was impolite in the extreme for our foreign minister to point this out in a press conference.

The question to ask, however, is whether India and Pakistan are fated to take two steps forward and five back whenever they agree to talk to one another. If we were rude to the Indians in Islamabad they were doubly rude to us when Gen Musharraf visited Agra and was sent off without even a public handshake. But before the Ghairat-Brigade jumps down my throat, let me point out that that act of the Indians was roundly condemned by a very influential section of the Indian media (Frontline magazine comes to mind) and the BJP government taken to task for that discourtesy.

A second question that raises its ugly head is whether these two countries will ever get rid of the baggage both carry? Or shall we say the baggage that is carried by the dinosaurs on both sides of the border.

PS. If Gilani had given a three-year extension to a federal secretary this country would’ve been on fire by now.


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