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Flag Ceremony on India-Pakistan Border Kicks Up Dust

  • Linda Blake

Every day at sunset since 1947, spectators have gathered at the Wagah Border crossing between India and Pakistan to watch rival border guards kick up dust in an entertaining flag-lowering ceremony. This daily display of shouts and stomps serves as a unique gauge of Indo-Pakistani relations - increasingly tense since the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November.

The sound guards make may seem like a war cry. Especially as they march toward the historically tense Wagah Border - India and Pakistan's only major road crossing.

But, to the thousands of spectators, the scene, in the heart of the divided Punjab - between Lahore and Amritsar - is more like a cricket match than a military ceremony.

Indian school children wave flags as women - and a few men - dance to patriotic Bollywood songs.

Many try to out-do their Pakistani counterparts who are cheering from the other side of the border.

It is called the Beating Retreat Ceremony. Every day at sunset since the partition of the then-British ruled sub-continent in 1947, the gates of the so-called "Berlin Wall of Asia" fling open.

Indian Border Guards in khaki and Pakistani Rangers in black puff out their chests in a 30-minute display of synchronized stomps and shouts.

One Indian Border Guard points out that the higher the leg kicks, the more bitter the relations. Five years ago this would be punctuated by taunts and chest beating. But, after a four day meeting between border forces in 2004, the two sides agreed to cool down the ceremony to reflect improved relations.

For Indians such as Naina from Delhi, this virtual war-show actually makes them feel more connected to their Pakistani neighbors.

"We were together once upon a time," Naian recalls, "If you back to the history... and I guess this show brings both of the countries together."

Despite recent political tensions, the flag lowering ceremony is the one daily act of joint solidarity between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars against each other.

Soon after the ceremony ends, curious spectators on both sides push towards the border gate. Many, like one Indian man, express their patriotism.

And many of those cheering say they would like to go to Pakistan one day.

It is mixed emotions such as these that maintain the deep divide between the two countries, and keeps the border sealed.