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A Case Of ‘Flag Terrorism': Governments of Both India and Pakistan


22 February 2016

By Tariq A. Al Maeen

Governments of both India and Pakistan need to understand that waving the flag of another nation should not be seen with suspicion or met with force

Last September, some university students in India raised Pakistani flags during a sports event. The incident occurred at the venue of the Big Kashmir Marathon in the Hazratbal area of Srinagar in India. The 21-kilometre marathon was scheduled to begin from Naseem Bagh at the Kashmir University and go along the scenic Dal Lake. The organisers said the aim of the Big Kashmir Marathon, in which professional runners from outside India also participated, was to promote a healthy lifestyle and raise awareness among the youth.

The hoisting of the Pakistani flag did not sit well with the Indian authorities, who sent in troops to deal with this perceived act of treason. A clash ensued. Video footage showed Indian forces firing tear gas shells and swinging batons as they charged into the melee of university students. Several of the students sustained injuries. Some were dragged away into waiting police vans. The flags were rounded up and taken away. An officer at the scene said that the action of the students in raising the national emblem of another country was ''flag terrorism''.

In another incident at another university in a different state in India, students were suspended from the institution for displaying the Pakistani flag during a cricket match in which the national team was featured.

Not to be outdone, the Pakistanis have now responded to their own domestic brand of ''flag terrorism''. Late last month, Pakistani authorities took into custody a Pakistani national for hoisting the Indian flag on the rooftop of his home. Omar Draz from a village near Lahore was picked up on a complaint from neighbours who saw the flag. Authorities raided his home and seized him and removed the flag. The police registered a case under the Maintenance of Public Order against Draz. He was presented in court the same day and was remanded to police custody.

In his defence, Draz claimed that he was not aware that he was breaking any law or had committed a crime and urged the authorities to pardon him. He said he should be seen as ''an Indian cricketer's fan and not as a spy''. ''I am a big fan of Virat Kohli — the Indian captain. I support the Indian team because of Kohli. Hoisting of Indian flag on the rooftop of [my] house only shows my love for the Indian cricketer,'' Draz said. The incarcerated man told the gathering media that he also had posters and photographs of the cricketer pasted all over the walls of his home. He did not think, for a moment, that he was committing any sort of crime.

The actions of Draz, a resident of the eastern town of Okara, fell under Section 123-A of the Pakistan Penal Code that states that ‘displays of allegiance to another country is a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty', and persons found guilty are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The arrest drew considerable condemnation from Pakistani citizens who felt that Draz's rights were violated with the government using a heavy hand.

One person said: ''This is bizarre. I find it utterly laughable that this person was arrested. I mean, c'mon, this is stupid. Why can't he do what he wants? He's a sporting person and is displaying his admiration for a player. It's not a military rule. This is still supposed to be an open country. I think the authorities should focus on more immediate, [serious] issues, like crime, terror.'' Another added: ''What is the big deal with hoisting the Indian flag? It's his house, his property and as long he is no threat to national security, he can hoist whatever he desires. Would I be jailed if I hoist any flag except the Pakistani flag? Does that make me a terrorist?''

Voices such as these clearly spell that excessive actions by authorities on both sides do not bode well for the promotion of a sporting fraternity that rises above and beyond national boundaries. Pakistani and Indian sports followers have always expressed admiration for players from opposing sides, not based on their nationality, but on their sporting appeal. To curb such feverish enthusiasm is a great disservice — not only to sports, but to all Indians and Pakistanis everywhere.

Both nations are made of a similar stock of people and at ground level have very few issues or differences with each other. This is very evident in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where people belonging to the bloc share a fraternal bond.

Governments of both India and Pakistan need to understand that waving the flag of another nation should not be viewed with suspicion or met with force, but instead, tolerated to foster closer ties and better understanding that have been eluding these two nations since they came into being.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena 

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