International

India, Pakistan To Ratchet Down Aggressive Border Ceremony

Soldiers at Wagah crossing

Pakistani and Indian soldiers strut their stuff at the Wagah crossing. Narinder Nanu/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Narinder Nanu/Getty Images

Apparently goose-stepping is bad for the knees. At least that's one of the reasons being given for a toned-down ceremony that's been part of an Indian and Pakistani tradition for 50 years.

At the Wagah border crossing each evening, soldiers on both sides strut around like peacocks in an aggressive display aimed at intimidating, at least symbolically, their rival counterparts. It's sort of like professional wrestling, with big crowds gathering in Amritsar, India in the east and Lahore, Pakistan, in the west. They cheer and jeer throughout the ritual.

The BBC video is worth watching. The story says:

For 45 minutes every day at sunset the guards high-kick, stamp, speed march and bawl their way through a choreographed routine.

It ends in the lowering of both flags and the slamming of the border gates.

But the nuclear-armed nations have been trying to ratchet down their mutual distrust and they agreed two years ago to take the Wagah "retreat" ceremony down a notch as a "confidence-building measure."

Still, it didn't take.

They will try again, however. From now on, "aggressive looks will be replaced with a proper handshake and a smile."

According to the BBC, some reports (probably emanating from Pakistan) have said that the Indians decided to cool things down because the athletic moves were too much for their guards - members of the elite Border Security Force.

"We have finally agreed to reduce much of the aggressive posturing that had been part of the retreat ceremony up until now," Himmat Singh, a spokesman for the Pakistan Rangers, told the BBC.

It could represent a meaningful, permanent shift in attitudes. On the other hand, as with anything in relations between India and Pakistan, it's best not to count on it.

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