By: Man Aman Singh Chhina
The retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah international border, mid-way between Amritsar and Lahore, shot into prominence in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict, even though it was instituted in the late 1950s and has continued without a break, but for during the 1965 and 1971 wars.
While this may have been the first terror hit on the Pakistani side at the border crossing, the Indian side had seen one such attack in 2009-10. Fifteen home-made rockets had been fired at BSF border posts by “unknown elements” from the Pakistani side then. However, there had been no casualties in that incident.
Widely known as the ‘Wagah retreat ceremony’, the name is actually a misnomer since Wagah is a village on the Pakistani side of the border and Attari is the village on the Indian side where the border is situated.
Till the late 90s, the retreat ceremony attracted visitors only on weekends on the Indian side, numbering a few hundred. An equal number gathered on the Pakistani side on Fridays, the holiday in Lahore.
It was after the Kargil conflict in 1999 and the subsequent patriotic rush that tourists started thronging the ceremony, necessitating expansion of infrastructure including new viewer galleries and souvenir shops on both sides of the border. However, the ceremony itself continued during the duration of the Kargil conflict.
Today, roughly 10,000 visitors from India view the ceremony each day while the numbers on the Pakistani side range between 5-7,000 on weekdays and 10,000 on weekends.
The highlight of the ceremony is a mutually agreed drill by the Pak Rangers and BSF, before the flags of the two nations are lowered as the sun goes down.
Jawans on both sides make aggressive gestures, stamp down feet from impossible angles and glare at each other in faux anger, much to the delight of the crowds.
Sunday’s attack comes at a time when the BSF was planning to introduce border tourism at Attari. A senior BSF official in Punjab Frontier headquarters said these plans may be put on hold for now.