Wagah – The tragicomedy of India-Pakistan

April 23, 2010

wagah2Most people who follow South Asia have either watched the Beating the Retreat ceremony at Wagah on the India-Pakistan border on video or been there in person. The farcical and choreographed display by goose-stepping soldiers from India and Pakistan as they slam shut the gates on the border crossing is such a  staple for Western journalists that it has almost become too cliched to write about.

But having been there myself for the first time last week, after 10 years of following India and Pakistan, I can’t resist throwing in my own two cents’ worth.

The mood is already riotously cheerful as we arrive from Lahore, “Jai Ho” blasting out from loudspeakers on the Indian side, soon to be drowned out by loud music on the Pakistani side, accompanied by much banging of drums, clapping, flag-waving and dancing. The goose-stepping soldiers with their turbans appear and dance out their quadrilles to cries of “Pakistan Zindabad” on our side of the gate, “Bharat Mata ki” on the other. The white gates with the Pakistani flag and the name of the country in both English and Urdu are still shut, so that my first impression of a country that I once lived in for four years is that I can hear India rather than see it.

Then the gates open and for the briefest of moments you imagine what it would be like if the crowds on either side could simply walk up to each other, hug and talk; perhaps even pass each other on their way along the Grand Trunk Road as it once was before partition in 1947. The day that happens, if and when it does, you would have to be a very hard person not to shed a tear.  For me, at that moment, the fun of the ceremony was lost.

A spectacle that had initially seemed colourful and amusing became farce. Gone was the suspension of disbelief that allowed you to watch soldiers from two very professional armies perform in a way which would make even talent judge Simon Cowell blanche.

I’m not sure the mood in the crowd really changed. The women opposite us in the back row of the women-only benches continued to dance. The men kept yelling for Pakistan while the crowd on the other side chanted for India. It was impossible to tell whether they too had felt the same hollowness when the gates opened and were simply hiding it better.  Or maybe they were just enjoying a fun day out.  Tragicomedy is not unusual in South Asia, although the word is rather too decorous for the many thousands of deaths it has witnessed over the years.

The overly costumed soldiers in the ceremony faced off against each other while buglers sounded the retreat – traditionally played to signal the end of battle at sunset.  Slowly, with much reeling and flicking of ropes, the Indian and Pakistani flags were lowered. The gates were slammed shut.

Afterwards, we walked away from the border post to the barbed wire fence which divides the unbroken, unchanging countryside of the Punjab into India and Pakistan.  Not far behind us was a graveyard for some of those who had died in wars between India and Pakistan.  A white line in the dust underneath the fence marked the border. Unlike the ornamental crossing post with its gates and archways, here at this spot only this line and the fence separated us from the fields on the other side. I put one foot across the line, to stand in India.


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There is nothing to be proud of, both countries are loosing potential in trade, cultural relations, sports, interaction of common people. For anytime soon in future there is no chance of normal relations between India and Pakistan. But irony is even the process of normalization has not begun. The change has to be from top to bottom, its the leaders of both countries who have to convince their people that peace is good for both. Both countries have harmed each other in the past and maybe doing the same currently as well. But need to create a better future for all.
If India thinks it will emerge as a global player with simmering conflicts with its neighbour(s). That is a mistake, similarly, Pakistan on its part can gain a lot by ending hostility towards in India.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk wrote

“If India thinks it will emerge as a global player with simmering conflicts with its neighbour(s).”

The trajectory India and Pakistan have taken in the past 63 years, especially last 15 years is totally ok for Indians.

It is hilarious to read paks commenting as if they are somehow preventing India’s progress. Paks are tasting their own bitter terrorism tonic (LOL!) which they worked hard on hoping to undermine India.

Keep the status-quo we say,. it is working mighty well for India. It is entirely up to paks, to give up terrorism, and abandon wet dreams of territorial revisioninsm. If they don’t as I said keep the status-quo!

Posted by Seekeroftruth | Report as abusive

I agree with Seekeroftruth partially.

True the terrorism seeds were brought-up and nurtured by Pakistan ruler.. but as the thorns are now pinching them, they are realizing their mistake.

India cannot go all the way as Global player if its neighbor keeps it pricking. and Indians do not want to see Pakistan as anywhere in trouble as it ultimately troubles them.

Posted by Grinningdevil | Report as abusive

india should have good relations with pak? yes, definately but no self respecting country can allow a pak to dictate terms and blackmail them into a dialogue. pak doesn’t deserve dialogue they need a stick …india has been very patient with them…. fighting 1971 and dividing pak brought peace for 25 years…alot of people in india think that’s the way forward..

by sponsering terror pak is digging its own grave…india is just playing a wait and watch game..lets see where would this policy of terror will take pak…

at the end america will not stay if af-pak for long and then the judgement day will come.pak is sending this whole region back into dark ages…what a pest.

Posted by kanishkathegrt | Report as abusive

pakistan is gettng a taste of its own medicine..sponsering terror in others country doesn’t immune their own people with radicalization.. unfortunatly this indian govt. doesn’t have backbone.they need to preplan for the future …atleast for the next 15-20 years…and need to find a permanent soultion for this international migraine called pakistan or papistan(land of pure papis)

though i must appericiate the way pak army has somehow stablized the sitution in their north west and saved the disintegration.

pak is as big as two of our provinces…and they don’t realise that they have everything to loose by having india as their enemy.

Posted by kanishkathegrt | Report as abusive

lets face the facts and understand what exactly is the ground reality.With as many as 42 terrorist camps reported to be functioning in the Indo-Pak border region itself, it is also the world’s greatest centre for terrorist training.

With the largest and most ferocious religious extremist organizations, flush with weapons and money, it is also the greatest centre and breading ground of extremism in the Muslim world.

It seems this society of terrorism, extremism and anti-feminism is the result of surrender by Pakistani state to private actors of violent ideologies.

These private players of homeland and cross-border terrorism have become so strong that they dare challenge the state at will.

The case of the wanted terror-preacher Hafiz Saeed is evident. the fool is now running a campaign to trigger a “water war” against India. That is also a familiar slogan of the Pak jihadists against India beside “Azadi” for Kashmir.

Posted by kanishkathegrt | Report as abusive

kanishkathegrt wrote:
“fighting 1971 and dividing pak brought peace for 25 years…alot of people in india think that’s the way forward..”

-I can harly imagine any fools in India unaware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, 1971 is history. Next Indo-Pak wars have a chance of either country using nuclear weapons on the other, given this reality moving forward India should be very careful picking up a fight with Pakistan. It is upto India, if you want peace Pakistan will negotiate with honour. If you choose to fight, Pakistan is ready for that too. And no one should remain under any doubt, India is sponsoring terrorism inside Pakistan, its diplomatic posts in Afghanistan are being used by intelligence operatives as a cover to stir trouble inside Pakistan. India has used state sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, now Maoists have recently shown their skills by killing 75 Indian policemen. Maoist insurgency will finally engulf India and in that case all Pakistan would need to do to harm India is to just stoke the flames a bit. India will ultimately taste some of Maoists tonic too.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk, if india really want to destablize pak and break it into 4-5 parts,we dont have to use a conventional war…remember “mukti bahni” you might not know about it…check wikipedia…and there are many other ways by which this could be achieved.we have achieved results through proxy war and we can do it again..

india can deal with china as we have 50billion dollar trade and chinese cannot risk it for a small peice of barren land.i agree with you when you say that India will not emerge as a global player with simmering conflicts with pakistan…and peace is required to achieve that..but for peace pakistan needs to be in pieces.

Posted by kanishkathegrt | Report as abusive

“1971 is history”.

Indeed! In 2010 “pakistan” is much worse off than 1971when Niazi saluted JS Arora and signed the surrender instrument.

Today the neon lights are off in “pakistan”. Literally.

Lately neon-light off “pakistan” has two sources of income (1) Vigorous begging (2) even more vigorous use of terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere to milk ransom money from the west.

That’s why the status quo works well for India. Only contribution of paks to rest of the world is terrorism. India should be ever alert on what pak terrorist attack would be. Who knows poisoning water supplies, flying Pakistan airlines flight on civilian targets. Who knows what is being planned feverishly at the ISI headquarters.But then it has been a pipe dream if the goal was to weaken India.

One person who frequently writes on this site might know.

Posted by Seekeroftruth | Report as abusive

I love reading these comments, makes me laugh :-)
Seems like no-one agreed with you.

Posted by Ehsun | Report as abusive

Sure, go ahead and blab. It took less than 50 “Paki’s” to wreak havoc on your financial hub, causing shame to the Indian Army Commando’s who couldnt even catch them alive.

We may sponsor terrorism, but you guys dont even understand the lifestyle we live here. We may not have the same amount of high rise buildings, but a much lesser proportion of our underdeveloped country go to sleep hungry.

You guys are obsessed with us. The Times of India has a seperate page focusing on Pakistan. The “Paki’s” dont care so much about bhartis.

So whatever. Go on and glib. Yeah Bharat has much higher economic prosperity, but let our people rise once again for you to see the heel of our shoe. I know it may seem a bit far from reality, but dont doubt Pakistani’s, they can surprise you and history shows it

Posted by wildbandit | Report as abusive


We are impressed by your thoughts on how both countries should come to peace with one another, and work towards trade, culture and development. These are healthy and positive thoughts.

But before we actually celeberate our rarely found agreement on what we want from each other, can I ask if this would ever be possible ?
For the above envisaged non-hostile environment thats apt for trade and cultural exchanges, its pak that should take the first step and not India.

Tell me if it would be possible for Pakistan to forget kashmir and think ahead. Coz, with kashmir in your head, not a step can be taken forward.

Now please dont give us the lecture on ‘how the kashmiris are being brutally killed by the Indian Army’ and ‘how they crave for freedon from India’ and stuff. If at all this is the case, this is India’s problem and India will resolve the ‘so called’ dissatisfaction of the kashmiris.

Why does Pak needs to push itself into all this and worsen India’s internal problems?

See as far as India is concerned , the public feeling here is that Pakistan has already been given enough chances to prove itself sincere against fighting the terrorists. Now, there is not much of a motivation left to give friendship yet another chance. It just doesnt seem to be working out between us.

We need to stop eyeing each others land. Then and only then can there be a environment of trust thats needed for commerce and stuff.

Oh yeah and one more thing, please cut the crap on the Nukes. We all know that both the countries wont even think of the Nukes. Not coz we are matured nations, but just because none of us is ready or radical enough to commit suicide to annhilate the other. We dont hate the other as much as we want to save our own lives

Posted by grey_on_all | Report as abusive


we are waiting …

Posted by grey_on_all | Report as abusive

wildbandit says: “It took less than 50 “Paki’s” to wreak havoc on your financial hub” .. “We may sponsor terrorism”

I dont understand if this guy is really proud of this or he just lost connect of what he has in mind and what he types.

man, he is inviting the world to come and label the whole of pakistanis ‘terrorists’ and seems proud of it too..

wildo, good going brother, guess yesternight’s tribal alcohol is doing the trick.

get out of the kick next time before you write blogs on reuters about your country’s entrepreneurship on creating world class terrorist organisations. The whole world reads these stuff you see. 😉

Posted by grey_on_all | Report as abusive

Pakistan has been manipulated by the cold war powers in order to keep their geo-strategic goals active. Cold war is over and these power no longer need Pakistan. But they have caused so much damage to the Af-Pak region that they are unable to get out of it easily. They have been forced to come back and shake their hands vigorously to drop Pakistan off and it is not happening. A small country like Pakistan has been brainwashed into believing that they are superior to a much bigger country like India, engage it in three major wars, arm it to the teeth at the expense of its stability and development, radicalize it and turn it into a global terrorist hub. If you watch their moves, they pay lip service to Pakistan’s civilian government once in a while and make all deals with its military. It is they who have amplified the arrogance of the Pakistani military elite and its supporters. China has added more fuel to this for its own reasons. When the US went to war with Iraq for WMDs and has been working hard to isolate North Korea and Iran for building WMDs, they allowed Pakistan to build their nukes right in front of their eyes, because they needed Pakistan to settle scores with the USSR. They allowed Musharraf to airlift hundreds of Pakistani military personnel from Kunduz, knowing well that these were the guys controlling Afghanistan with Taliban providing the facade as a government.

Britain created Pakistan knowing well how the future for the region would be. The US created the conditions in Pakistan and Afghanistan that would give rise to Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations in the world. Now the British created Pakistan is made to fight the US created Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s own creation, the Taliban. What a parody? The parties are on both sides staging a chicken fight. And this lady sheds crocodile tears about unity between India and Pakistan at the Wagah border. And the imbeciles on this forum do not see the truth that they are all being manipulated by the media and governments of the Western powers. They are arguing with each other instead of seeing the bigger picture.

I hope sincerely that some day the US and its allies fight each other to the bitter end and self destruct for what they have done to the rest of the world.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive