Wagah Border Ceremony: A Display of Tension and Cooperation Between India and Pakistan

Every day before sunset, a “war without gunpowder” will be staged at Waga, a border port between India and Pakistan. An ordinary flag-lowering ceremony, under the operation of Indian and Pakistani soldiers, became tense and full of gunpowder. Some say it’s a way for a pair of old enemies to express their anger and disgust in a peaceful environment; others say it’s a pantomime performed by a pair of brothers through exaggerated and witty movements. Are they fighting, or cooperating? With this question in mind, I embarked on the road to Waga.

Take the express train from New Delhi, the capital of India, and travel northwest for about 5 hours to the border city of Amritsar. After 40 minutes, transfer to a car and arrive at Waga Village. The India-Pakistan border is very close to Waga Village. A tall flagpole is erected on both sides, and there is a large iron gate on each side of the flagpole. The road connecting India and Pakistan passes through the iron gate and extends to about 100 meters on both sides. There are respective national gates with “India” and “Pakistan” written in large characters on them. The iron gate and the courtyard walls on both sides respectively enclose a field the size of a football field, and each field has a large stepped grandstand.

In the evening, I came to the passage between the India Gate and the Great Iron Gate. At this time, the stands were full of people, about tens of thousands. Looking around, the stands on the opposite side were also crowded with people, estimated to be tens of thousands of people. The loudspeakers on both sides played the exciting folk music of their respective countries, and the aisle on the Indian side was full of young people, singing and dancing to the beat of the music.

As the sky darkened, the march stopped suddenly, followed by piercing shouts: “Long live Hindustan!” The audience in the stands shouted “Long live Hindustan!” On the opposite side came “Long live Pakistan!” Slogans on both sides The sound came and went, and the sound shook the sky, just like the two armies confronting each other in ancient times to demonstrate. With overwhelming shouts, people ran back and forth waving national flags in the aisles on both sides from time to time. At this moment, the frenzy melted everything, and the sound drowned everything.

Suddenly, there was no sound, and a group of soldiers walking out of the barracks attracted people’s attention. They are dressed in khaki Indian army uniforms, with a black and red scarf tied under their belts, red fan-shaped cloth crowns on their heads, and a fan-shaped ornament inserted in the top left of the cap, like a red peacock spreading its tail. These soldiers were all excited, standing straight in the aisle in two rows, facing the stands. The loud and clear password sounded, and the two soldiers at the head of the line turned right and strode towards the big iron gate. They walked faster and faster, with their arms swinging neatly and vigorously, which looked like oars rowing forward from a distance.

Since I was allowed to move freely in the aisle, I saw the same movement on the other side. The movements of both sides are coordinated, and the performance of one is like the image in the mirror of the other. The Pakistani border guards looked taller, wearing black military uniforms, and a bright red scarf tied under the armed belt around their waists. They wear many shining badges on their chests, green cloth crowns on their heads, a long cloth flowing from the back of their heads to their waists, and another long black feather is inserted on the top left of the top of the cap.

The flag-lowering players are strictly selected special “players” who want to surpass each other in size and clothing. The heroic and high-spirited momentum of the soldiers ignited the passion of the audience in the stands on both sides, and they cheered and cheered resoundingly. Afterwards, a group of soldiers marched towards the big iron gate proudly in two rows. Walking to the big iron gate, with a high kick, the soldier stood still. The two iron gates opened with a “crash”, and the soldiers of both sides stood facing each other at once, with no obstacles in between.

While I was watching this extremely shocking scene with mixed emotions and held my breath, the front soldiers on both sides took a few steps forward at the same time, and the distance between them became closer. They put their hands on their hips and stared at each other, as if they were about to engage in a life-and-death duel. The atmosphere was serious and dignified. After a while, a soldier from each of the two teams raised his leg high, swung his foot above his head, and then stomped his foot with all his strength. Because of the excessive force, the cloth crown on the head almost fell to the ground. The cloth crowns of the Indian soldiers resembled red cockscombs, and the cloth crowns of Pakistani soldiers resembled green cockscombs. Therefore, the confrontation just now resembled a cockfighting performance.

The soldier calmly raised his hand to straighten the tilted “cockscomb”, then shook his neck violently, and the “cockscomb” shook violently. At this time, the audience in the stands were all amused.

A local friend who was traveling with me said that the kicking and kicking movements are much gentler now. After the terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008, soldiers from both sides kicked their legs to the sky, as if they would crush each other. Fortunately, apart from verbal abuse and chest collisions, there was no violent collision between the two sides. “In recent years, as the high-level talks between the two countries have resumed the peace process, the soldiers’ emotions have eased a lot.”

The captains of the two sides shook their cloth crowns at each other as a salute, and then shook hands with a slight touch of their hands, without looking at each other throughout the process. With their heads held high, they each turned, walked to the flagpole less than half a meter away from the border line, untied the noose, pulled the flag ropes into a cross shape, and lowered their respective flags amidst the sound of bugles on both sides. The national flags of the two countries fell slowly, and once crossed and overlapped halfway. The two sides quickly and skillfully folded their national flags, held them in their hands, and walked back to the camp. The remaining soldiers raised their legs high and stomped their feet again on the way back to the camp. The big iron door closed with a bang.

Wagga border crossing at twilight.

The Wagga Border Ceremony began in 1959 and originated from the British Army’s “Mingjin Retreat Ceremony”, with the purpose of officially closing the border crossing at night. This border crossing is cleared daily from 10 am to 4 pm. The Wagga Border Ceremony starts at 5.15pm in summer and 4.15pm in winter and usually lasts for 45 minutes. Over the past 60 years, wars broke out between India and Pakistan, and the relationship once dropped to a freezing point. However, the Waga border ceremony has continued to this day, only occasionally suspended for a few days due to tension in the relationship.

An old man in Punjab told me sadly that every time he watched the ceremony, he could not calm down for a long time. A good country was divided artificially. Many of his friends moved to Pakistan in 1947, and they have not seen each other since then. “Without the British colonists, my friends and I would not have been forced to separate, and India and Pakistan would not have suffered so many deaths and injuries due to religious and border conflicts.”

Many viewers also felt that this ceremony was quite meaningful. A female college student from New Delhi told me that although the soldiers of the two countries confront each other, what she feels more is that this ceremony reminds people that India and Pakistan are deeply connected. “This seemingly confrontational ceremony is actually a model of harmonious cooperation between the two countries. Without a deep tacit understanding, such a performance cannot be achieved.” A young man in Amritsar said that he came to see it once a week. He felt that this ceremony was more of entertainment for him, “I was like watching a cricket match, and what I saw was peace, without smelling any gunpowder.”

Not far from both sides of the gate is the continuous barbed wire fence.

As soon as the ceremony was over, audiences from both India and Pakistan rushed to the gate of the country with a hush, facing each other across the fence. In the long past, there was no border here, and a main road ran through the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. In the middle of the 18th century, the Indian subcontinent began to become a British colony. After World War II, it got rid of British colonial rule and gained independence. In June 1947, Mountbatten, the last British governor in India, proposed the “Mountbatten Plan” to divide India into two autonomous dominions of India and Pakistan.

According to the “Mountbatten Plan”, the Hindu-majority areas belonged to India, and the Muslim-majority areas belonged to Pakistan. However, on the issue of ownership of Kashmir, it is stipulated that the princes and states themselves decide to join India or Pakistan, or remain independent. At that time, 77% of the population in Kashmir was Muslim, and they tended to join Pakistan; the king of Kashmir was a Hindu, and he tended to join India. Therefore, when India and Pakistan were partitioned, the issue of the ownership of Kashmir could not be resolved. Territorial disputes have sparked massive sectarian conflicts, 600,000 people have died in vendettas, and feuds between the two countries have lasted for decades.

This antagonism runs deep among ordinary people. It is said that in the past, beside the national flags inside the two border gates, the people of the two countries scolded each other across the border and did not show weakness to each other. Participate in cheering and cheering, hoping to deter the opponent with spiritual power.

An elderly Pakistani man waved the national flag to cheer.

After more than half a century of wind and rain, the Waga border ceremony has evolved into a symbol of national honor and will. The swords drawn by the soldiers of the two countries accurately reflected the state of relations between India and Pakistan, and it is the epitome of the long-term tension and fierce competition between the two countries. .

Analysis generally believes that the hostility between India and Pakistan is a bitter fruit created by the British colonists. The well-known British geographer Anthony John Christopher said that in order to maintain their dominant position, the British colonists deliberately emphasized the differences in religion and race among the colonized people, and used characteristics such as religion and skin color to isolate and isolate their subjects. In order to maximize the wealth of India, the British colonists recognized hundreds of pre-existing “land states” and divided and ruled India. With the rise of Indian nationalism and rising calls for independence, the British colonists adopted a divide-and-rule strategy to give birth to two countries, India and Pakistan, which permanently opposed Hindus and Muslims.

When and how to dissolve the ice of feud between the two countries, there is no optimistic and clear prediction in the minds of political observers all over the world. But peace replaces war, communication and dialogue replaces military conflict, and negotiation replaces force, which is becoming the main trend in today’s world. Can the flag-lowering ceremony on the India-Pakistan border be transformed into a ceremony that removes the color of opposition and focuses on viewing? The politicians and people of the two countries will give the final answer.

India and Pakistan are inseparable neighbors to each other, and the peoples of the two countries have shared the civilization of the South Asian subcontinent for thousands of years. The harmonious coexistence of the two countries conforms to the fundamental interests of both sides and is also the common expectation of the international community. The international community hopes that the two sides will find a fundamental and long-term way to improve bilateral relations, replace confrontation with dialogue, resolve differences with goodwill, create a better future through cooperation, and jointly maintain peace, stability and development of the two countries and the region.

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