Wagah border ceremony aggression toned down

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Media caption,

BBC archive footage of the Wagah border ceremony

Indian and Pakistani border guards have done away with aggressive gestures during the daily ceremonial "retreat" ceremony on the border at Wagah.

For 45 minutes every day at sunset the guards high-kick, stamp, speed march and bawl their way through a choreographed routine.

It ends in the lowering of both flags and the slamming of the border gates.

The display has become a huge tourist attraction, drawing thousands of spectators every evening.

'Leg injuries'

The border guards in the ceremony, which began in 1959, belong to India's Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistan Rangers.

Now both sides have decided to water down the belligerent tone after a request by India two months ago, according to a spokesman of Pakistan Rangers.

Nadim Raza told the BBC: "India's BSF had requested the toning down of aggression in the ceremony at Wagah, and started practising it a couple of months ago. We have decided to respond."

"But we will only change the 'fist gesture'. No thumb would be shown and aggressive looks will be replaced with a proper handshake and a smile."

He said the Pakistani guards would "continue with foot-pressing and leg-stretching drill because it is the pride of a soldier and a symbol of his fitness".

A senior BSF officer said India had made several earlier attempts to tone down the "hostility" in the drill but the Pakistan Rangers had refused to alter their routine, too, until recently.

Image caption,
Crowds of onlookers cheer every warlike strut and goose-step

"We have finally agreed to reduce much of the aggressive posturing that had been part of the retreat ceremony up until now," Himmat Singh told the BBC.

India has also deployed women guards to participate in the ceremony.

The retreat has been made a much more cordial affair with the exclusion of key gestures like the dramatically extended arm, the clenched fist with the thumb held skywards.

Some reports say that the Indians decide to tone down the aggressive moves as it was affecting the health of their guards.

But Nadim Raza said that the drill "never causes leg injuries in soldiers".

Peace talks between Delhi and Islamabad froze after the 2008 militant attacks on Mumbai - which Pakistan later admitted were partly planned on its soil. Dialogue has resumed over recent months, although with little progress.

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