Monday, December 18, 2006

On the Punjab Border


Not all public diplomacy is international—at least, not at one of the border crossings between India and Pakistan. NPR’s Philip Reeves reports in “Border Ceremony Draws Crowds in Pakistan, India” that the nightly lowering of the two countries’ flags at a border crossing in the Punjab has evolved into a highly choreographed ritual that combines nationalist rabble-rousing and military chest-thumping, complete with bleachers on each side of the border and vendors hawking beer and peanuts to the crowds that show up to watch.

This would be reminiscent of the “We’ve got spirit, yes we do” scene in Hoosiers, with the addition of guns and goose-stepping.

But then, after the border is closed for the night and the pro-Indian and pro-Pakistani chants have died down, an odd thing happens:

... Bright-eyed and smiling almost bashfully, people begin to wave at the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis wave back. If you think of the history of this landscape, this makes sense. When Pakistan was born after the partition of India, amid terrible communal bloodletting, Punjab was split in two. Families and friends were separated. Those bonds are not forgotten. For all the trumpeting and strutting, there are plenty of people who just want peace.

It’s a hopeful message: Once Official India and Official Pakistan have gotten their quien es más macho messages across, civilians on both sides—remembering they were part of a single country just a few generations back—seem ready to just sit down and have some dal.

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