Wagah Border: An Icon
The Wagah border came into existence at the time of India’s Independence and partition. Pakistan became a new nation and Wagah, a small village found itself on the world map for its famous ceremonial border between India and Pakistan. It is also referred to as the Berlin wall of Asia and has an iconic, political, and historical importance. The most interesting thing about this border is the flag lowering ceremony that is held everyday at dusk. It attracts thousands of people from both sides of the border and foreigners as well.
The Wagah border was created with the inception of Pakistan as a new nation and saw the massacre of thousands of people in the greatest human migration that ever took place. Millions of people were displaced, their homes plundered, and many became victims of violent riots. The Wagah border can sometimes be a grim reminder of the history of anguish and atrocities of people who were rendered homeless and forced to migrate.
August 15, 2001:
This day saw an unprecedented event on Wagah border when thousands of people from both sides participated in a peaceful candle light procession. Many people still hope that the hostilities between India and Pakistan will end. However, trade was still restricted to porters carrying small commodities for households in the villages near the border. This changed in 2006, when after sixty years; trucks carrying specific commodities crossed the border. This was a milestone for both the countries, politically and economically as well.
This political icon that saw the partition has now become a major tourist attraction; almost eight thousand people visit the border everyday to witness the flag lowering ceremony that lasts for about forty-five minutes. The Indian government is even thinking about opening a tourist complex near the border to increase and promote it as a tourist attraction.
Peace activist’s playground:
This place has slowly become the peace activist’s domain even though many foreigners find the ceremony to be very aggressive in nature. In March 2000 many women activists from India made the first border crossing from India to Pakistan. This was after the bloodless coup de tat in Pakistan and the Kargil war. Interestingly it attracted the attention of Jaswant Singh who was the foreign minister of India; recently expelled from his party because of alleged remarks about praising Jinnah, in his book, who was the founder of Pakistan.
The Parliament attack:
The Indian parliament was attacked in 2001 and in the wake of these attacks by alleged Pakistani terrorists there was a massive build-up of troops on the border. An incident took place at this time that made the Wagah border an icon of war and peace. Allegedly, a Pakistani Jawan pulled out his weapon and pointed it at Indian spectators. Since this incident the Wagah border has become a barometer for gauging the heat (politically or otherwise) between the two countries.
The increasing tension between the two countries has not abated the number of people visiting Wagah. In fact the number of tourists has increased, making it a sad paradox that the ceremony is enjoyed under the shadow of the imminent threat of a war. Some people visit in the hope of showing their support for peace, some for patriotic reasons and others for pure entertainment.
The ceremony starts every evening at dusk and lasts for about forty-five minutes. The Indian side is comprised of Border Security Force (B.S.F) Soldiers and the Pakistani side has Pakistan Rangers. Both sides are precise, aggressive and grim while performing the ceremony. The crowd usually grows silent and the adrenalin and tension is palpable. Soldiers on both sides are almost seven feet tall and dressed in colorful turbans and khaki. The flags are folded with a surgeon’s precision and brought back. The ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a handshake between the soldiers.
After the ceremony is over people from both the countries are within touchable distance of each other. However, interaction and talking is not permitted by both the governments. In spite of this there are shouts of “Greetings from India” or “Greetings from Pakistan” by spectators. Spectators are not even allowed to touch the ones on the other side. Many people return home with mixed feelings about the relations between India and Pakistan. The Wagah border has an iconic significance for both the countries and is a grim reminder of the past and the present tensions between them.