One appreciates Wagah at many levels. This is the site of the daily flag ceremony at the Pakistan-India border. Pakistan Rangers and India Border Security Forces lower both Pakistan’s and India’s flags, two hours before sunset. We attended this ceremony on September 24th. I found it fascinating. Moreover, I refer to it as Wagah’s Pakistan-India Metaphor.
Wagah’s Pakistan-India Metaphor
The border ceremony is a metaphor. The ceremony represents the partition’s tragic history, cautious cooperation, and ongoing tensions. However, the ceremony is also just plain fun! One easily overlooks the negative connotations to simply enjoy the experience.
Border Ceremony Video Highlights – 6 minutes 30 seconds
For a quick look at the ceremony, check out this video. Amir (our guide) and I shot this six and a half minute video using my Samsung phone.
Pre-ceremony Reminds Me of a Sporting Event
The pre-ceremony reminded me of a sporting event. American football comes to mind.
The ceremony starts with a flourish. Rangers march out toward the border gate. India’s BSF troops do the same. Especially impressive, the high steps. I wince thinking about it!
The ceremony ends with the simultaneous lowering of each country’s flag.
Wagah’s Pakistan-India Metaphor and the Partition
India and Pakistan have a complex relationship. It began with the Partition.
First, consider the British Raj. The British ruled India from 1858 to 1947. After World War II, Britain was weary and ready to end its colonial presence in India. Partition planning began whereby Pakistan was to become an independent country. Boundary planning intended to provide Pakistan as a Muslim country with Hindus and Sikhs remaining in India.
Unfortunately, the British rushed the border definition decision. Sir Cyril Radcliffe had just five weeks to define a border boundary between the countries. Moreover, the decision was casual. And, it was secret. People only found out about the border boundary two days after partition.
Chaos and violence ensued. Hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes to move into either Pakistan or India, based on their religion. Countless died. I have extended family members with heartbreaking familial stories. For example, a family member only taking their house key with them as they fled. They assumed an ultimate resolution to the situation. It never happened. Another family member volunteered to clean and make burial preparations for dead bodies arriving at the Lahore train station. I am sure many stories are the same on the India side of the border.
Epilogue for Wagah’s Pakistan-India Metaphor
I don’t judge the tensions. I have many family, friends, and colleagues on both sides of the border. First of all, Pakistan is a new country. It is only 70 years old this year. It started with only what the British left. Pakistan had no industry. At the beginning, government workers did not even have pencils. Moreover, profound theology differences exist between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. To me, this seems more than just the American Methodists versus Presbyterians. Profound belief differences exist around the nature of deity, food, animals, and many other aspects of society.
Beyond these internal challenges, geopolitical forces did and continue to bring external pressure. Early on, the United States and Soviet Union struggled to gain the upper hand in influence on both countries. Since 9/11, the United States exerts severe pressure on Pakistan to contain terrorists. Notably, Pakistan saw its tourism industry devastated. Most of all, if any American thinks Pakistan does not try, think again. Security checkpoints abound. For example, every Pakistani carries a national identify card. (I received a tour of the identity card IT kiosk in one town. Impressive!) Furthermore, Pakistan absorbed countless Afghani immigrants. And, Pakistan prevented the Soviet Union from reaching a warm-water port.
In comparison, look at the United States. We currently struggle with Red versus Blue. Republicans versus Democrats. We even fought a Civil War over slavery. As I write this post, the United States just had its worst mass shooting in history. I hope Americans remain humble and appreciate the tremendous sacrifices and obstacles both Pakistan and India did and still face.