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The Indian government has decided to increase the seats at stadium on the India-Pakistan Wagha-Attari border, where a joint beating retreat ceremony is held every evening, from 5000 to over 13,000, at an estimated cost of Rs.24 crores.

Every evening, the Pakistan Rangers and Border Security Force (BSF) of India, practice a coordinated exercise and lower their flags before closing the gates on the respective sides. The drill starts with performance of aggressive brisk parade with knees raised up till nose height and slamming on the ground, staring at each other fiercely, ending with unwilling hand-shake and slamming the steel gates in mock aggression.

The ceremony attracts visitors from both sides and evokes nationalistic zeal. Patriotic slogans bordering on jingoism are raised on both sides.

Increased tension between India and Pakistan sours the emotions among people also. After the Indian surgical strike inside Pakistan on 29th September 2016, the Indian side of the border was closed to visitors for ten days.

In order to ease the tension and aggression displayed on the borders of India and Pakistan every day, Gujarat government has decided to develop the border with Pakistan as a tourist location and intends to start a ‘seema darshan’ program at Nada Bet in Sui village.

Even though the two countries are officially sworn enemies, their people meet each other very warmly, showing that there might be aggression between the governments on the diplomatic front, people-to-people relation between India and Pakistan has inclined towards mutual acceptance, love and peace, which could bring the two nations closer if the governments had acted in a more innovative way.

The continued rift between India and Pakistan has enforced lifelong sufferings and miseries for people, whose families are now divided by the border. Families, who cannot be with their loved ones in times of happiness and grief, only because they happen to be on the other side of the disputed border, are the real victims of the conflict.

As peace activists from two sides, we propose a different model for the border programme.
Instead of an aggressive military performance during the evening ceremony, there should be a ceremony with a flavor of peace and friendship between the citizens of two countries.
People from both sides, who desire to meet each other, but cannot because of a very strict visa and permission from their respective Home/Interior Ministry (even after one has a visa from the other side) regime, should be allowed to meet for an hour or two unrestrained.
Proper checking can ensure that no disruptive element like the suicide attacker who caused a fatal incident on the Pakistani side on 2 November 2014 is allowed to slip in.
To ensure that people return to their respective countries, one of their valued identities like the passport, National Identity Card or voter’s card may be deposited as a security.

People should be allowed to exchange harmless gifts and sweets.
People should be able to perform impromptu joint short musical items.
Similar activities should be allowed at Gujarat-Sindh, Rajasthan-Sindh, Punjab-Punjab, Kashmir-Kashmir borders.

The peace and friendship ceremony will have a calming effect on the relationship between the two countries. The degree of enmity between the two countries will be reduced, if people are allowed to meet freely.

The people share a common culture and speak the same language on either sides of border. Those, who came from the other side during partition, have separated families on the other side of the border, whom they have not been able to meet for years and have been longing to meet. With the proposed initiative all such people will get a chance to freely meet their desired persons from the other side.

While exhibition of military aggression has been the way of flexing muscles by both India and Pakistan, its people can take pride in non-military achievements which they’ll be too happy to share with the citizens of the other country.

Under the proposed programme students, artists, children, literary personalities, women, professionals and activists can undertake joint constructive activities. There can be joint cultural activities involving citizens of all ages. Long term friendships can be built.
The positive effects it will have on the consciousness of people undoubtedly outweighs any benefits which may accrue from the distorted mentality, which some of our citizens harbour for the other country.

We hope that if these peace and friendship points are opened up it will not only help lower the cost as compared to military performance expenditures, it will lead to an eventual situation where the two countries may open the border allowing free travel across without any requirement of a passport-visa regime. Before the border is opened up for people, they could be opened for free (unrestricted) trade, as a first step.

The arms race that the two countries are presently engaged in can only lead to destruction, with the possibility of a nuclear conflict. Both India and Pakistan should enter into arms control treaties like the US-Soviet Union/Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty models or the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone model in existence in five areas of world.

Promotion of love through Peace and Friendship ceremony is the urgent need of the hour.

By Saeeda Diep and Sandeep Pandey
Note: Saeeda Diep is based in Lahore and Sandeep Pandey in Lucknow and both are peace activists. They share a sister-brother relationship.
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