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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Mixed feelings on India-Pakistan border
Sixty years after the India-Pakistan partition, the Wagah border is still the only road link between the two countries. Alistair Leithead reports on the mixed legacy for those living in the border zone.

Indian border guards at Wagah crossing
Thousands gather at the border to watch the sunset ceremony

The soldiers are more than 7ft tall (2.13m) if you count the huge fan-shaped headdresses they waggle at each other like peacocks, just inches apart either side of the India-Pakistan border.

For 45 minutes every sunset they high kick, stamp, speed march and shout their way through a choreographed routine that ends in the lowering of both flags and the slamming of the border gates.

The "retreat ceremony", the traditional way to end hostilities for the day, is a lot less aggressive than it used to be - and any tension is cheered away by the baying crowd of thousands who pack the stadiums on either side every night.

At least now the posturing border guards, yelled on from the stands by chants of India and Pakistan, afford themselves the briefest of handshakes.

Divided communities

After the ceremony the crowds stand within touching distance of each other, but the two countries are not supposed to be on speaking terms.

"Best wishes from India!" says one man.

But he is warned that too much interaction is banned and over the line a whistle is blown. A soldier pushes the crowd back with his hand, a gun firmly held on his shoulder.

Raghbir Singh
If partition had not happened it would have been the best thing. We were living like brothers and there was a lot of love between us
Raghbir Singh

Sixty years since the two countries were created, the Wagah border is still the only road link between India and Pakistan.

The narrow white line on the tarmac is the physical representation of a line drawn on a map between Amritsar and Lahore and beyond in 1947, which divided communities and families, and saw millions flee from one new country to another.

Muslims rushed to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India. Hundreds of thousands died on the journey as religious factions fought where their paths crossed.

Raghbir Singh slowly walked along the platform at the railway station on the Indian side of the border, remembering what he saw there 60 years ago.

He was 19 at partition and can still picture the violence that accompanied it: "It was really a bad time. There were trainloads coming from the Pakistani side - there were dead bodies and a lot of injured people on the trains," he said.

"There were people who were crying and running to the hospitals. It was a really bad time. I felt very sad and very down."

Hundreds of thousands died, but despite all that happened he still thinks the anniversary should be marked.

"It's worth celebrating as it brings people together - there are those who used to live in one country still alive and we can meet.

Map

"If partition hadn't happened it would have been the best thing. We were living like brothers and there was a lot of love between us - everyone was doing well."

Even today trucks are not allowed to cross the border road, so a small army of porters waits on either side with different coloured bibs identifying them as Indian or Pakistani.

The trucks unload 100m away and the men rush backwards and forwards with sack-loads on their heads, transferring them to the corresponding heads on the other side of the white line, while the two sets of tall border guards watch intently on.

Even the postmen have a hard time - the two vans are backed up and sack-loads of mail are dismissively thrown over the line.

'Soft' borders

It makes life very inconvenient for those living along the border.

Hardev Singh is a farmer, working his family's land which was marooned in no-man's land in 1947.

Indian and Pakistani border guards at Wagah crossing

Now he needs a special permit to reach his lush, green rice paddy fields which are on the other side of a high, wide and rusty barbed-wire fence.

Only he is allowed access to work the fields alone at specific times in the heat of every other day, there are limits on crop sizes and there is the degrading need for body searches when he goes in and out.

He hates the crowds and the military posturing just up the fence at the sunset ceremony.

"People who come to see it say relations between India and Pakistan are getting better but it's not changed for us," he said.

"When I stand in my farm I don't feel India is even an independent country."

Despite the bitterness and the bureaucracy there is some optimism that change will come.

Kuldeep Nayyar was formerly an Indian High Commissioner to Britain but is now an activist for peace between Pakistan and India.

"We want to foster the India-Pakistan friendship," he said, welcoming a Pakistani delegation at the border ahead of a midnight peace ceremony.

"My dream is that the borders should become soft - from Afghanistan to Burma - and we can have a common market like Europe. Identities will remain, but we will work on fighting poverty."

That dream is still a long way off, but he hopes every anniversary of partition will bring better relations that little bit closer.




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Traditional border ceremony



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