Pageant at Wagah
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 3:54pm
For sure you know that Germany was divided during the Cold War.
If so, you most likely then are familiar with the Berlin Wall. Perhaps then Checkpoint Charlie rings a bell? This was one of the few borders crossings between East and West Germany, the focal point for East-West tensions and the site of the 1961 Berlin crisis.
Maybe then you have heard of the 38th parallel which divided Korea after the Second World War? Perhaps you have heard of Panmunjom where North and South Korean forces face each other with looks that could kill? There is even a divided conference room with North Korean soldiers occupying one side and their southern rivals the other. Borders are serious business in places like these.
But have you heard of the Wagah border between India and Pakistan?
After receiving its independence in 1947, India fractured along religious lines creating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the secular Republic of India. This division was in many ways violent and since division; as many as 4 wars have been fought between Pakistan and India.
One of the major points of contention is the Kashmir region between India, China and Pakistan. Pakistan considers Kashmir a disputed territory whose status should be defined by the Kashmiris, India considers Kashmir to be Indian. Not to be left out, China has claimed portions of Kashmir as parts of Tibet and many Kashmiris feel Kashmir should be independent of both India and Pakistan.
Wagah is a village in the disputed Kashmir territory which sits on the Grand Trunk Road astride the only border crossing between India and Pakistan. To this day, the eastern side of the village is Indian and the western Pakistani.
Naturally tensions there run high.
Yet, the border has developed a life of its own and the daily opening and closing has become a barometer for Indian-Pakistani relations. Each day elite Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security force face off in a pageant of overwhelming machismo and nationalist sentiments full of stomping, striding, posturing, leering, and intimidation which would make a peacock blush.
Much like a changing of the guards on steroids, it simply must be seen to be believed.
While the ceremony cannot be described as warm, it is civil if not cordial. It does therefore represent a unique sort of cultural diplomacy as each group is forced to cooperate to perfect this delicate ballet of coordinated antagonism while saving face. In an area as volatile as Kashmir, any cooperation, even one based on mutual intimidation, is better than armed conflict. Oftentimes international relations is a bumpy road, people have different ways of establishing a dialogue, fostering understanding and building trust. If these daily combined operations can serve as an outlet for resentment it is a good thing. At the very least, it’s a great show, and there are no tanks.
Indian Border Gaurd and Pakistani Ranger shake hands at Wagah
By Martin Milinski