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Posted at: Jun 9, 2015, 12:47 AM; last updated: Jun 8, 2015, 11:45 PM (IST)

Pigeons need not fly across the Indo-Pak border !

When Pakistan and India are not warring neighbours, they coexist as wary friends, threatening each other daily at the Wagah border. Real soldiers enact a theatre of national machismo during the flag-lowering ceremony.
Pigeons need not fly across the Indo-Pak border !
The flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border is a theatrical performance. A Tribune photo

NO two nations in the world are as proud of their armed forces as Pakistan and India. These armies are more than swords; they are sceptres of national sovereignty.Wars bring out the worst in humans, and the best in singers. World War II produced the British Vera Lynn, whose poignant song “We'll meet again,” gave hope to those who feared they might never see their families or motherland again.

In the subcontinent, Lata Mangeshkar, to honour Indians martyred in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, sang, “Aye mere watan ke logo,” before a New Delhi audience, including Prime Minister Pandit Nehru. He was moved to tears, declaring: “Those who don't feel inspired by ‘Aye mere watan ke logo’ don't deserve to be called a Hindustani”. 

Lata's counterpart in Pakistan, Mme Nur Jahan inspired her compatriots during the 1965 war against India, singing, “Aye watan key sajeele jawanon,” and Soofi Tabassum's tribute in Punjabi, “Aay putr hatan tey nahin vikde”. 

To prevent more wars between themselves, India and Pakistan spend an inordinate amount of their national budget each year to sustain their defensive/offensive capability. The Indian budget contained an allocation of $40 billion for its armed forces, an increase of 7 per cent over the previous year, even though the risk of war remains the same. The Indians now have access to every weapon invented by man. And any know-how it may not possess, it will obtain after Modi's seminal visit to Israel later this month. 

Pakistan's military budget is hardly comparable to India's. It is a paltry $7 billion, barely enough to support its armed forces who do double duty as a shadow government. Both countries have armies, navies, air forces, military hardware and software, sophisticated intelligence and counter-intelligence facilities, and lest anyone has forgotten, nuclear weapons. 

When they are not warring neighbours, they coexist as wary friends, threatening each other daily at the Wagah border. The flag-lowering ceremony there is a theatrical performance, acted by real soldiers with real guns, and real safety-catches. Observers on both sides of the border were treated recently to a performance of the theatre of the absurd, when an Indian SSP in Pathankot detained an injured pigeon because it bore the words “Shakargarh” and “Narowal” written on its body in English, along with some numbers and words in Urdu. That was enough to cook the pigeon's goose. An Indian newspaper reported: “The district police have left nothing to chance, even getting the bird scanned to check if there was something hidden inside it. ‘But we did not find anything in the scan,’ said the SSP” 

This is not the first such incident. There have been equally errant pigeons who crossed the border before to be caught by vigilant border patrols. 

As the principal of Aitchison College Lahore, I was asked to take a pair of Lahori pigeons as a gift for my counterpart in Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. I crossed into India with them but was stopped by the Indian Customs. They could not allow birds into India. They asked me to go back to Pakistan, to leave the pigeons there, and then return. I had only a single-entry visa. The situation turned into a neo-military stand-off. As I could not take the pigeons back and since I was not allowed to carry them forward, I suggested that the best solution would be to release the pigeons. Let them decide where they wished to live — in Pakistan or in India. Pigeons would not be the first to make such a choice. Millions of people did at the same border in 1947. This latest incident — at best, an infraction of Indo-Pak immigration rules; at worst, a botched attempt at fine-feathered espionage — raises one obvious question. Are the bloated defence budgets of these countries justifiable, or are they an extravagance, if such nations need to resort to pigeon warfare? 

Their military strategists should refresh their knowledge of Roman history. In 390 BC, an attack on Rome by an army of Gauls was foiled by an alert from cackling geese in their rooftop cage on Rome's Capitoline Hill. They proved better sentinels than human sentries.

Will it ever be safe for pigeons to fly across borders with impunity? 

Apparently not, according to Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. In a recent statement, she reiterated three conditions for an improvement in Indo-Pak relations: Peaceful dialogue, bilateral discussions, and no terror or violence. There is no mention of pigeon diplomacy.

An Indian multimillionaire B.R. Doshi recently renounced his Rs 600-crore business to become a Jain monk. He spent Rs100 crore to be seen taking vows of poverty. That included hiring 12 chariots, nine elephants, and nine camel carts. No pigeons were available. All India's pigeons had been deployed for duty on the Indo-Pak border. 

The writer is an author. By arrangement with the Dawn.


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