India, Pakistan back to their aggressive ways at Wagah

September 25, 2008

One of the oddities of the troubled India-Pakistan relationship is a  theatrical flag-lowering ceremony that the border guards of the two countries together enact every day at sunset at the Wagah checkpoint in the Punjab — for long the only road crossing.YouTube Preview Image

Tall, very tall, guards from the Pakistani Rangers and men from India’s Border Security Force (BSF) with twirling moustaches goose-march up to the zero point, stamping their feet on the ground till the knees reach the chin, scowling at each other  and shouting their way in a choreographed routine that ends in the lowering of the flags and the slamming of huge gates to the two countries.

Watched by baying crowds seated on grandstands on either side, the guards, wearing huge fan-shaped headresses,  come within inches of each other, the hostility unmistakable, the gestures avowedly  aggressive. The flags are lowered in clockwork precison; the soldiers exchange the briefest of handshakes, and the borders between India and Pakistan are sealed once more as they have been for most of the past 60 years. 


For the last  two years, the two sides had chosen to tone down some of  the posturing  during this retreat ceremony at the border, in keeping with the spirit of rapprochement that began with a peace process in 2004.

But according to this story from the Press Trust of India, India and Pakistan are back to their aggressive ways once again at Wagah, reflecting renewed strains in the relationship.

“Everything was going on normal during the evening drill but a few days back the Pakistan Rangers started showing their aggressive postures again after which BSF was forced to retaliate in a similar fashion,”  said Mohammed Aqeel, deputy inspector general of the Indian BSF.

Aqeel said the BSF initially tried to ignore the Pakistanis’ posturing, but then the crowds massed on their side would not allow it to be left unchallenged.

Perhaps, like much else in the difficult relationship between India and Pakistan, this too may become another point of argument as to who brought back the “precision nastiness” into the Wagah ceremony.


The crowds love the show, perhaps because it appeals to a  deeper instinct — a sense of being locked in mortal combat.  And as journalist Nirupama Subramaniam writes in her blog, a whole industry has developed around this ceremony, part theatre,  part symbolism, part one-upmanship.


Restaurants and drink stalls have sprung up on both sides of the border,  and if you are in Amritsar, home to the Sikhs’ Golden Temple, a trip to the Wagah to watch this sunset ceremony is considered part of any tourist itinerary. You can also pick up VCDs of the show for the folks back home.

With so  much passion invested in this,  is it any surprise then that someone is making sure the ceremony at Wagah doesn’t lose its  hard edge ?

Perhaps it is best  the two countries expend their energies on such  shadow-play rather than on real guns.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I would say that’s a constructive article showing the positive side of the show-off at the wagah border… I think govt are doing there best to generate employment :))

Posted by VN | Report as abusive

[…] More: […]

Posted by India-Pakistan border theatre « Asian Window | Report as abusive

[…] More: Share and Enjoy: […]

Posted by India-Pakistan border theatre at Asian Window | Report as abusive

The people of BHAKKAR district have elected a chief minister of Punjab and a prime minister of Pakistan in different elections. Although a goup of local leaders sponcer the occasion and personally benefited by this gesture but basically the people of Bhakkar elected these leaders in hope of a better Bhakkar. It’s requested to the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab to please consider upgrading Bhakkar as a divisional head quarter by appointing a commissioner to provide better governance, extra facilities and security in the area. There are news that religious violence and drug smuggling is increased in the area recently.Bhakkar has been head quarters of divisional level organization of Thal Development Authority since 1952. TDA was abolish in 1971 on corruption charges against it’s high officials. Bhakkar is also a border district to Dera Ismail Khan and a capital city of Thal desert area-spread in six districts in Punjab. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab Shah, U.S.A

Posted by Khwaja Aftab Shah, U.S.A | Report as abusive