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February 16, 1999
ASSEMBLY POLL '98
Harkirat Singh at the Wagah check post
On Saturday, Atal Bihari Vajpayee will become the first Indian prime minister to arrive at this border post, enroute to Lahore, on board a Delhi Transport Corporation luxury coach.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief will welcome his Indian counterpart on the Pakistan side, and demonstrate to the world that despite tensions, the two countries, can, still, live together as peaceful neighbours.
In fact, the very purpose for establishing this post way back in 1947 was to promote peace and communal harmony between the people of the two countries who then witnessed communal hatred and mayhem that gripped the sub-continent following Partition.
One can still recall the words of Brigadier Nazir Ahmed of Pakistan who along with Brigadier Mohinder Singh Chopra of the Indian army set up the post midway between Amritsar and Lahore.
'We hope and pray that we both now live up to the expectations we built up and also that of the public,' Brigadier Ahmed wrote in his final note to Brigadier Chopra, after establishing the check post on October 11, 1947. The two brigadiers belonged to the same elite formation of the Sixth Royal Battalion.
After Partition the arduous task of maintaining peace along this part of the then undemarcated border was assigned to Brigadier Chopra who then commanded the 123 Infantry Brigade and Brigadier Ahmed on the Pakistan side.
The two former colleagues did their best to perform an uphill task of escorting and defending millions of refugees.
'Ours was a difficult task as there were no pillars or markers to suggest which was our land and which theirs,' Brigadier Chopra later recalled in his book, 1947, A Soldier's Story.
On the orders of the two brigadiers, a few hastily white washed drums and a rubble of stone were put along the Sher Shah Marg to mark the new international border between India and Pakistan.
Some tents were pitched on either side. Two sentry boxes painted in the national colours of the two countries and a swing gate to regulate the refugee traffic was erected. Two flag masts were also put up on either side and a brass plaque commemorating the historic event was installed.
On October 11, 1947, the post came into existence when the two brigadiers and former regimental colleagues met at Wagah village which was close to the check post in Pakistan territory and signed the historical treaty regarding the establishment of the post.
The immediate outcome of the meeting between the brigadiers was the troops stationed on either side of the Punjab border.
Fifty one years later, despite the wars that the two countries have fought against each other, the Border Security Force and their Pakistani counterparts, the Pakistan Rangers, manning the check post have not forgotten the purpose behind the establishment of the post by the two brigadiers.
Even, when terrorism was at its peak in Punjab, there was no tension here, and the BSF and the Rangers maintained cordial relations. From time to time, the troops even exchanged pleasantries.
An aura of national pride envelops the post and an instance of this is the Retreat ceremony conducted here just before sunset every day.
Whether it is the clicking of boots or the high pitched voices of the BSF and Rangers or the lowering of flags of the respective countries, each exercise or movement of the over six feet tall jawans participating in the ceremony on either side is performed simultaneously indicating the close liaison that those in charge of the security of the post have with each other.
The post has also become an important spot for holding flag meetings between BSF and Rangers officers to sort out problems that arise from time to time along the Indo-Pakistan border.
In 1984, India banned the entry of Pakistan nationals and Pakistan followed suit by banning the entry of Indian nationals following the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya.
These decisions have led to a fall in passenger traffic through the only official road link between the two countries. Now only foreigners pass through the post.
The governments have also not heeded demands by traders that the check post be open to facilitate trade via this road route. Only exports from Afghanistan are permitted from here; Indo-Pakistan trade is conducted on the Attari-Lahore rail route.
Today, the post is a tourist attraction with visitors flocking to it, on either side, to witness the evening retreat ceremony.
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