Aurora Borderalis

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One would imagine that our National Defence Day that passed by this week would perhaps bring fresh hope for security and stability amidst all the brutality, warmongering and malcontent in Pakistan. While it may have passed silently for the majority of the population just going about their business on a normal work day, cyberspace was abuzz with a new meme. And this one didn’t involve any cat videos for a change but a photograph taken from low-earth orbit.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but only to fools who can’t read a thousand words. For others, it’s worth a lot more – about a hundred billion dollars more. That’s the estimated cost of the International Space Station (ISS) aboard which astronauts from Expedition 28 photographed the Indo-Pak border region last month. Released to the public only a few days ago, the spectacular night-time vista shows the floodlit border zone snaking for hundreds of kilometers across the earth’s surface. While a view of the illuminated border may be intriguing, the ISS photograph also shows several large urban areas that are clearly distinguished as clusters of light. While some may find the night-time cityscapes of Delhi and Lahore to be beautiful, the truth is our cities look more like a cancerous growth on the face of the earth than anything else. But that’s a digression better reserved for next week.

If you’ve previously ooohed and aaahed at the hackneyed foot stomping ceremony at Wagha, rest assured the ISS photograph will show you the border like never before. It is, for want of a better word, enlightening. One always knew we had a border problem, but to join the ranks of countries where manmade structures are visible from space seems a bit premature. After the Great Wall of China and the Palm Island in Dubai, who would have guessed that a South Asian nuclear hotspot would attract so much attention for its photogenic quality? But we do—and it’s not for a very good reason.

The border between Pakistan and India has regularly seen attempts at infiltration by terrorists, as well as the movement of arms and contraband by smugglers. In order to prevent these practices, the installation of floodlights was sanctioned by the Indian government in 2003 and is due for completion within the next six months. That’s nearly two thousand kilometers of floodlights which will have been constructed entirely on India’s dime (At least now we know where all their aid money goes).

It’s too bad we don’t have any claim to it but one cannot help but wonder whether this is the final insult to a nation facing a crippling energy crisis and a breakdown of law and order? Could it be that India is taunting us with high-flying security arrangements and energy surpluses as we struggle to maintain some semblance of normality with candles, generators and uninterrupted power supplies? Maybe not, but then what else are neighbours for if not to ensure we are perpetually trying to keep up with the Joneses.

You see the trouble with neighbourhoods these days is that there are more hoods than neighbours in them. Just go to any of the urban or rural areas of Pakistan and you would find communities struggling to hold their own in a country filled with crime, mistrust and greed. If self-preservation is so deeply ingrained in our DNA, why should inter-relations between the likes of India and Pakistan be any different? Why pretend to be chums when we have been engaged in armed conflict ever since we gained independence? While there have been four wars and many border skirmishes and military stand-offs, there are also allegations against both countries for engaging in proxy wars by providing military and financial assistance to violent non-state actors. So exactly where are we headed?

After years of watching the laying of floral wreaths and listening to audacious declarations of impregnability on the occasion of Defence Day, coming face to face with the extent of our neighbour’s vigilance was a bit heartening. The optimist in us will always say that good fences make good neighbours. And it’s not hard to see that while Pakistan may not have invested a single cent in the construction of the floodlit corridor, we still benefit from it. Sitting less than thirty kilometres from the border, one cannot help but feel just a little bit safer knowing that no matter how dismal and bleak things may get with WAPDA and the Taliban running around these parts, the lights are on and at least someone is watching.

The writer is a consultant on public policy.

52 COMMENTS

  1. wow!!! This is the first time i enjoyed the comments of a pakistani journo… no bias, no partiality… god humour and wit… kudos…..

    • he messed up on one part – the sarcastic "AID money" to explain how India constructed the Fence. There is NO AID MONEY involved. He forgot – India no longer receives any Aid – as ive mentioned in my post below – except for a tiny UK-India education partnership that expires next year.

      Unlike Pakistan – India as more or less stopped receiving aid. The only south asian nations that received considerable AID is Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka (pretty much EVERYONE except India)

      • Dude , he was just trying to be funny. And that snide comment was probably aimed at the Pakistani millitary, not India. We may not take "aid" but we do take loans. And we , we the people have to pay the interest back on it. In any case i is a point, all that mony that is burnt in bright halogen lamps that illuminate 2000 km could have instead gone to electrify so many villages.

      • Very true, we are Tax payers (Indians) and it is because of this that we have floodlights…the writer seems to be in prejudice that India alike Pakistan have parks and sancturies and USAID money to nourish them. if this is the case of so called elite intellectual from India's West Neighbour then what do their commons think?

  2. A true story!!!! the last sentence is so beautiful the lights are on and at least someone is watching.!!!!! it was the strategic decision made by the Indian government that will cost us but at least we will be somewhat safer. I sincerely think pakistani people should introspect on what is going on there country, this hostility will not going to take us anywhere. Probably they should start a massive movement like we did in India -Anna Hazare movement to change the perception of their government towards India.

  3. Good Story- except for that AID Money angle!! To be a better reporter – you need to do your research correctly.
    The ENTIRE BORDER fence – including the floodlights, the sensors and the pucca road is sanctioned by CAG which operates under Tax moni!

    the only "aid" india receives is a piddly 35 million $ grant from UK for the UK-India Technology partnership!!

  4. Huh!! A Pakistani making noises about aid money?! Are you a cretin dear journalist? You people deserve your pathetic existence. For a while if you had stopped pointing fingers and started to do your bit to improve your own lot, you would't have to live your life as the world's poorest beggars. But then it would have robbed you of your opportunity of making a living buy feeding your readers crappy stories. I can only pity you.

  5. Good article, expcept the AID money angle.For the record, India does not need or ask for any more aid. We are self sufficient and all our expenses, be it military, social or anything is borne by hard working tax payers inside our country.

  6. AID money or not.. this is an amazing insight from an individual living the reality every day .. c’mon people. sitting on this side of the border all we tell is we dont need AID money for anything.. when the politicians are gobbling billions of indian rupees… in scams and yeah right we dont need AID money.. wherz the money for public services… ??..

  7. When did India Ever sponser non state actors for terrorist attacks in pakistan! The Terrorism in pakistan is homegrown! If at all its pakistan which has given refuge to criminals like Dawood as if he is a state guest! It looks unbaised but its actually Hypocritical article.

  8. I thought Pakistanis are the biggest recipient of aids, which instead of funding the poor and starving, goes for training terrorists. Realising the same, the donors are cutting down on the aids or attaching strict conditions. Could this journalist probably write a humorous piece on that one!?

  9. nice thought provoking article but very generalistic one with some sweeping statements(hard facts could be useful). Not quite expected from someone who is a consultant by profession writing in a national daily. All comments seems to be from Indians which goes on to show that ur views are heard with great interest in this part of earth as well 😉 Anyway Readership inducing writing style!

  10. We are training the terrorists? I guess you people have a very limited vision. If we are training the terrorists then why are we fighting them? Every one knows that Pakistan and America are allies in the war against the terrorism. India must clear its perspective about who is terrorist and who is not. Today, Pakistan is in trouble because of this so called war on terror. The US war in Afghanistan has led the terrorists to operate in Pakistan. Being US allies in war against terror we have risked our own security. We have taken the right steps and we will stay steadfast. We have made one of the biggest sacrifices in this war. So stop calling us terrorists and guardians of your mobs. Those criminals are the product of your underworld.

    • Wrong. You trained and nurtured terrorists to bleed India to its death through a proxywar. Actually it was CIA who taght you guys these tacticts when former USSR was there in Afganistan. ONce USSR left you guys had an army of trianed Jehadis whom you unleashed on India. But these Jehadis, driven by religion, found better allies in Al quaida. When the uncle Sam got after Alquaida your army switched its loyality. This annoyed your dear Taleban and they turned their guns against you.
      You are getting a dose of your own medicine. Do call it a sacrifice or whatever but what you sow so shall yu reap.

    • Dear Mahmood
      You are living under a rock. Wake up and take corrective actions. There is still time to save your Nation. It's not for nothing that the word 'Paki' is an expletive and every Pakistani is seen as a pariah in the civilised world.

  11. Can’t help Pakis paint India with the same color brush as they see themselves. Hassan Ghazali could have done some basic research on the "Aid money" angle. Won’t blame him though…Pakis are a disillusioned country with no goals. Perhaps poor sense of self respect may have prompted to the otherwise a readable article. RM- Canada

  12. the article speaks for its self, a delusional idealist thinks that pakistan and india are on the same page, we pakis started and have been encouraging 157 freedom fighter operations throughout india. its a better strategy, we maimed them hard, but their politicians did them good and disbanded raw limiting its functionality and holding out their funding in 2000. after that india started to grow. we have the same problem here pakis, our military runs this country and its operations, things will be complicated and ambiguous as they were in india, if see india nowadays looking good its because military is not interfering. but this wont be for long. the roots are long on both sides for hate and for war. india split pakistan, pakistan will split india either inside out or with help of china from frontal war. soon america will be a by gooner n the region and the wolves would be set free and the drums of war will sound, sooner than later.

    • And the fact that your wonderful policies have cause Pakistan to be #12 on the Worlds Failed State Index. Your Rupee is pegged at 85 rupee to dollar vs 45 of India. Your millitary budget is a piddling 5 billion $ compared to India's 41 billion $ and your economy is considered a planetary basketcase compared to Indias?

      The only think that will split is your useless ego – built on nothing but matchsticks – no economy, lousy millitary, NFWP and baloch asking for indepenence and your Primary city Karachi burning with Somalia like gangsters and sub saharan 17 hour power cuts

      dream on dummy

    • Dreamy guy.
      Fairly articulate but zero intellect.
      A million guys like him and Pakistans eclipse is guaranteed.
      The first place he would come as a refugee is India.
      possibly would find emloyment as a Chowkidar

    • You are right about only one thing here: India and Pakistan are not on the same page!
      The biggest democracy in the world can not be compared to a Semi-military ruled state like Pakistan that harbours the likes of Dawood & Laden!
      My sincere advice to you is, stop day dreaming about breaking India with help of other military ruled states. Focus on developing your own nation. Believe me, there are a lot of hate mongers on Indian side too, but majority of Indians will be happy to see Pakistan as a happy nation.
      It would be like a en elder brother feeling nice for a younger one who has left 'Gundagardi in the gali' & settled into a new decent life…

  13. We didn’t unleash any terrorists on you. It’s your own fault. Why don’t you let Kashmiris decide their own fate? If you are so much liberal and justified then give them the right to vote and let them decide what they want to do with their country. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Kashmir by your army. These are known as war crimes!!! And let me assure you world is watching. We don’t care about the fake propaganda that your media is promoting and feeding you. We are just waiting that UNO or any other peace keeping organization to intervene in your ruthless criminal activities and put and end to this barbaric rule. One more thing, the people you call terrorists are freedom fighters. When there is a struggle for freedom in a country, a sect of anarchists always arises. Maybe you should look deeper into your country; only keeping it together with force is no means of keeping a country together. You people lack basic governing ability. You people are so divided by your cast system, that it’s pathetic. You people have chandalas who are considered untouchables. Moreover, there have been 8 separatist movements in India namely Khalistan, Assam Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. If you don’t believe me, try google it. It’s an eye opener, isn’t it. And you talk about Kashmiris. Just get your country together first, then talk about Pakistan. We are a Muslim ummat, and all Muslims are united, unlike your cast system. So, pointing towards one Muslim is like pointing towards the whole Muslim community. Besides, we have ruled over you for seven hundred years. So I understand how you people feel being subjugated and dominated.

    • khalistan was finished in the late 80s!!
      Assam's ULFA has just signed a peace treaty
      NSCN of Nagaland is down 80% in fighter strenght and are considering a peace treaty to lay down their arms.
      Maoists are considering a political solution!!!

      Keep dreaming pakis

      your balochistan and NWFP are about to secede. Your principal city Karachi is not even worth calling metroplois with 1200 dead in 3 months – its more like Mogadishu- wiht18 hour power cuts, torture cells, pahstuns vs sindhis vs mqm vs god knows what!!!

      your shit hole of a country is going down the toilet. You have no friends!! Even china didnt bother to take your side when you ucked up Kargil and refused to give you aid when US stopped its 800 million $

      All Pakistan is built on is HATE and Begging for AID.
      Fix your toilet of a nation and stop exporting terror to other countries! Or we'll keep slaughtering your filth – like we've been doing in kashmir for the last 60 years!!!

    • Arre Bewakuf…does your freedom struggle teach you to kill innocent people including those of your own community….as you said you said your people have a habit of infiltrating in our country and claim it yours… u did it 700 years ago and want to do it again… we shooed you then and will wallop the daylights out of you this time as well…look at you man… failed state…. we are most certainly about to become a superpower of the world (since you are a pro at googling… google this as well) in very near future…but we doubt whether your country will remain on the world map to see it..you guys will take care to destroy your own country and surely very very soon.. where will you take refuge then…because taliban would kick your butt, USA would be through with you so would not hesitate to bomb your remains…and if you try to escape to china we will knock your heads off on the way…one by one… well as an Indian i thought the article was quite well written of course except the aid part of it… wish you wouldn't have written such a nasty comment unnecessarily and evoked this response….

    • Why don't you guys mind your own business. If you have to meddle your ass in Kashmir? If kashmiris want to decide their own fate why did Pakistan put its ass in that and I believe that has done more harm to Kashmir cause because now everyone believes Its Pakistan who is running the show in Kashmir.

  14. Great post. Carefully crafted article. And guys, Mr.Ghazali has sugar-coated the pill. The message is for both sides. Just enjoy the article and don't do what he has asked not to do.

  15. Nice artice, it is unlikely that the pakistanis would stop exporting terrorists to India in the near future. Nice thing the border is lit up. That way the infiltrators can be shot in clear light, instead of fumbling in the dark.

  16. Shahab : : kaun se zamaane me ji rha hai !!!…..india has become a superpower ..no economic crisis….see yourself first….then speak….millions of people in your country are starving ….u breed terrorism ……poori dooniya me tum logo li mitti paleet ho chuki hai……..yar ab to sudhar jao………

  17. Shahab : : kaun se zamaane me ji rha hai !!!…..india has become a superpower ..no economic crisis….see yourself first….then speak….millions of people in your country are starving ….u breed terrorism ……poori dooniya me tum logo ki mitti paleet ho chuki hai……..yar ab to sudhar jao………

  18. Writer seems to be in a prejudice…India don't nourish park and sancturies and the second one and most imporatant thing regarding those floodlights from our side. We pay tax thats why we have floodlights. This single statement is enough.

  19. Writer seems to be in a prejudice…India doesn't nourish park and sancturies and the second one and most imporatant thing regarding those floodlights from our side. We pay tax thats why we have floodlights. This single statement is enough.

  20. didnt know India was an AID recipient!!.. AFAIK , we just provided a billion dollars to Bangladesh, and oh yues we are building a fence there too…

  21. Man you Indians are frothy. So focused on proving your one-upmanship. Perhaps your vedas and bhagvad-gita should have taught you some humility. Great piece Mr.Ghazali!

    • speak for yourself!
      we've shown you enough humility learnt from vedas… its time you prove your otherwise jehad preaching quran wrong.

  22. Pakistan was built on the concept of creating a 'pure Islamic' state – although 'Kaid-e-Azam' Jinnah was pretty much westernized in his outlook and lifestyle. Keeping the growing population high on that opium of the masses also known as religion, illiterate through the madrasas that can hardly be called eye-openers for learning, and preaching a hatred of India – that's what the average Pakistani has been brought up on. It's not a state – it's an anti-state. This extreme rigidity also comes with the terrain of Islam – the religion on which it was ostensibly founded (actually, it was probably just because Mr. Jinnah and his Muslim League were unable to get more mileage for themselves in the soon to be independent India). So a bunch of thugs, charlatans, looters and sleaze-balls have combined to mismanage Pakistan – not terribly unlike India. We have the same type of people (mostly) at the helm in politics, bureaucracy, industry, heck – even in media! What 'works' for India however is that we're not shackled by an inflexible religious doctrine – if anything, we have so many religions including Islam, that we can't be anything but flexible 🙂 – and there is far greater openness.

  23. India is in no ways an aid recipient, instead even during the tsunami India rejected all aid from the UN and other foreign countries. Further neither does India believe in supporting or breeding terrorists. We are a peaceful non violent nation which only retaliates when attacked to protect its integrity, other than that India has never been known to have attacked or sponsored any kind of terrorism or 'proxy war' against any other nation as the author puts it. The anti-India propoganda of the ruling military and terrorists in Pakistan seem to have found a willing believer in the author. Its a shame!!!
    other than that the articles well written with engaging wit.

  24. This Fence is built with Indian money only. If Pakistan wants to copy India they can build a Fence facing Afganistan. It will surely help as crime in India has dipped after the Fence was made.

    • u idiot …… come look at the afghan pak border then talk ….. the india pak border is peanuts compared to afghan pak border.

  25. This is a good read but little bit biased(naturally!).India is self sufficient nation and it receives no ‘AID MONEY’ from any other country, do your groundwork before posting such an article. Finally the line looks bright and beautiful!!

  26. Regardless of the interesting comments coming in from both sides of the border, I think we can give Mr.Ghazali credit for coining a new term for the border fence. Is there a facebook group for the "Aurora Borderalis" in the near future?

  27. The number of comments from India is not an indication of the popularity of this columnist in India. Its just that the link to this article was present on the front page of Google News along with other articles from WSJ etc, and people have simply followed the link. The Huffington Post has more than 500 comments on this news, mostly Americans blasting the Pakis for everything ranging from their low employment rates to low ferltility rates.

  28. A very amusing article and written by someone whom I know personally. Many interesting new words seen by my eyes for the first time. I also agree that all the foot stomping and fanfare at Wagah border is less appealing to my taste. Many years ago, in my pubescent years, I went to the flag lowering ceremony one evening. It used to be a sober event then and we stood silently 5 feet away from our brethren across the border, staring at each other, almost helplessly and with deep curiosity. An intense feeling of inadequacy welled up within me. Insects, birds, animals and even bacteria and pollen freely cross the border but we humans are imprisoned on our respective sides. At that time, and even now, I hoped for absolutely free travel by us humans too. I imagined falling in love with an Indian lady and writing love letters and thus bringing down the wall between us two countries. I still harbor that dream.
    Ali Khan-age 45
    Lahore

  29. Im my opinion this article is written from a bird's eye ( or E.T. , for want of a better term ) perspective. It just echoes what people read, see, hear and think. A lucid and chuckling piece indeed and certainly impartial as far as I can see. Its not meant to provoke but to awaken.
    Ali Khan
    Lahore

  30. This reminds me of Bette Midler's song – "From A Distance"!

    Fences can make one develop a myopic vision – something similar to face-book – every other second you would log on to check if there have been any new happenings on the fence! And following someone of fb gives you a false sense of control!

    I am not sure if Hassaan had this in mind or not – but Indian General of the Eastern front in 1971 was also named General Aurora! So, Astronomy is certainly not a good CBM.

    Can this become a spot for night cricket? It would be funny when someone would hit the ball .. on the other side of the fence!

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