Wagah sunset parade set for friendly turn

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By OUR BUREAU in Delhi
  • Published 4.04.04

New Delhi, April 4: No more insolent salutes. Very soon, it will be “friendly” farewells at sundown.

With the thaw in India-Pakistan relations, the show of highly stylised aggression that has marked the daily lowering of flags at the Wagah border is set to end.

The Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers have started “reorienting” their personnel involved in the decades-old ritual that was more a proxy war, official sources said today. If so long it was “aggressive”, from the end of this month, it will be “friendly”.

Aggressive it has been.

Like ferocious, fighting cocks, the towering giants — both the armies picked some of their tallest troops — would strut furiously towards the line separating them, their one-foot high fan-shaped turbans gleaming like crests. Almost when it seemed they would collide, the guards — the Pakistanis in grey salwar kameez, the Indians in khaki — would veer off with salutes that looked more like attempted blows.

Then the flags would be lowered, and the immense metal gates slammed shut with a satisfying clunk.

In 2001, both sides erected grandstands for the crowds that gather to cheer their border guards and hurl abuse at those of the other country. As cries of “Allah--Akbar” rose from the Pakistani side, shouts of “Hindustan! Hindustan!” would erupt from the other.

The decision to change from aggressive to friendly was taken at a top-level meeting of BSF and Pakistan Rangers in Lahore last week after the Indian side made a proposal in view of the improving relations between the neighbours.

“The aim of reshaping the parade is to do away with aggressive gestures during the ritual undertaken at sunset while closing the gates at the border,” a source said.

“The unpleasantries are undesirable and do not fit into the original style of the parade undertaken as per the traditional practice when the forces used to lower the flags of the respective sides and beat the retreat at sunset after the day’s fighting to honour the ceasefire and martyrs,” the source said.

According to the mutual agreement, the “objectionable gestures” in the parade would be removed so that the other side is not offended, the source added. “The aim is to make it more dignified so that the spirit behind the drill is fulfilled.”

Sources said some of the “aggressive gestures” had often led to rise in tempers of the guards deployed at the border and the matter was being considered by the Indian government for the last four months.

“However, it took some time to work out the modalities and get mutual approval after thorough consultations,” a source said, adding that the personnel deployed for such duties would have to rehearse the new style before it is put into practice.

Among other significant decisions taken at the meeting last week was that the two sides would respond quickly to each other’s complaints and call flag meetings to address them. The two forces also decided to facilitate the return of those who inadvertently strayed across the border.