Asia

India and Pakistan hold Wagah border ritual despite attack

Wagah border ceremony Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The colourful and elaborate ceremony draws crowds of thousands on both sides of the border

India and Pakistan have held a daily military ceremony at their only land border crossing, a day after a suicide attack there killed dozens of people.

Despite earlier plans to suspend the ritual at Wagah, Pakistan's military said it wanted the nation to unite against terrorism.

The bomb exploded near the checkpoint on the Pakistani side, killing at least 55 people and injuring many more.

Funerals of those killed have been taking place across Punjab province.

Punjab army corps commander Lt-Gen Naveed Zaman told those present at Monday's ceremony that they "proved that terrorists can't break the morale and zeal of the nation".

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Media captionShumaila Jaffery reports from Lahore hospital

Indian soldiers also took part on their side of the frontier. There were cheers on the Pakistani side but no spectators on the Indian side.

It would have been the first time the Wagah ritual had been called off since the two countries fought a war in 1971.

"Flag lowering ceremony at #Wagah Border held with same fervour - shows resolve of the nation", Pakistani military spokesman Asim Bajwal tweeted.


Analysis: Sanjoy Majumder, BBC News Delhi

The colourful ceremony at Wagah takes place at sunset every day, with large, enthusiastic and patriotic crowds ensconced in galleries on both sides of the border.

Goose-stepping border guards in full ceremonial uniform march and confront each other in dramatic style as the two flags are brought down.

A salute and handshake is followed by the gates on either side being slammed shut.

So the suicide attack on the Pakistani side at Wagah has raised concerns not just because it happened in a highly secure area, but also because it took place in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and prosperous province.

Why attack Wagah crossing?


The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) said they were behind the bombing. Two other militant groups - Jundullah and the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the TTP - also said they carried it out.

Sunday's attack is the deadliest to hit Pakistan in many months.

Scenes of horror

The Wagah crossing is a high-profile target, with large crowds gathering every day to watch an elaborate and colourful flag-lowering ceremony as the border closes.

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Media captionThe BBC's Shahzeb Jillani: "These people are trying to make sense of what happened. They want justice"

Witnesses described scenes of horror in the wake of the blast which struck just after Sunday's ceremony took place.

One intelligence official, who was in his office at the time, told Reuters he saw "scattered bodies, injured men, women and children and smashed cars".


Anger that attack warning 'was missed'

Social media users in Pakistan have expressed anger at the country's government for not doing enough to prevent Sunday's bombing.

On Twitter many recalled a piece run by a local newspaper, the Naya Akhbar, which published an apparent warning of an attack just days before the explosion, quoting information from security sources.

"Agencies inform them before & its published on 28 Oct in a local news paper of Lahore," exclaimed ‏@MujtabaSharf. The user also tweeted a picture of Naya Akhbar's front page with the headline "Plan to target flag lowering ceremony at Wagah; Suicide bombers have reached Lahore".

Anger was also levelled at Pakistani intelligence. "Naya Akhbar published super lead intimated before terrorist attack on #Wagah #LahoreBlast.Govt & sec agencies sleeping?" ‏@FarrukhHabibISF tweeted.

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Politicians on both sides of the border have condemned the attack. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it a "dastardly act of terrorism".

India has in the past accused Pakistan of sponsoring jihadist groups in the region.

The two countries, which have fought three wars against each other since independence from Britain in 1947, have been engaged in a long-running conflict over the region of Kashmir, which both sides claim.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pakistani border guards patrol the Wagah frontier every day

Dozens of people use the Wagah crossing to enter India and Pakistan every day, says BBC Urdu's Shumaila Jaffrey in Lahore, as it is the only road crossing between the two countries.

It is also a crucial trade facility, where truck-loads of goods coming from and going to India are loaded and unloaded.

Pakistan's government has been engaged in a long-running conflict with the Pakistani Taliban, and attempts at peace talks foundered just weeks after they began in March.

Militant violence eased after a Pakistan army offensive was launched in tribal strongholds near the Afghan border in June, but attacks have risen since August.

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