The Wagah-Attari border has a number of connotations. It is primarily the line which divides India and Pakistan, and is the same point which witnessed large scale migration during the partition of 1947. The land route remained an important connector between the two countries until the war of 1965.
Apart from being the line which divides both countries, it is the site where the world famous daily retreat ceremony, where large numbers of people from different parts of not just the two countries, but other parts of the world congregate — occurs. In recent years, the border is also emerging as an important trade hub as is evident from the increase in bilateral trade over the past few years and the number of trucks ploughing on both sides is witnessing an increase, the number of trucks daily varies from 100 to 250, this could witness a further increase when 24-7 trade begins. The up gradation of infrastructure, especially on the Indian side, has helped in giving a boost to trade, though there is far greater potential if certain fundamental logistical issues are addressed.
Yet, it is only when one actually crosses over by the land route, that one realizes that there are many more stakeholders, than is often thought. During a recent to Pakistan, where I had the opportunity of crossing over by land, I got an opportunity to understand how the Wagah-Attari land crossing means different things.
In the context of trade and commerce for example, it is not just big businesses on both sides which will be the beneficiaries of improved connectivity and greater trade. The local tertiary sector has immensely benefited from economic linkages on both sides, this includes not just transporters whose trucks run, but also smaller shop keepers. Over the past few years, a number of small shops have come up near the border on both sides, in fact on the Pakistani side there are slightly more. Some even selling Indian products, which include food stuffs and cosmetics. On the Indian side, one can see boards which state that they sell Pakistani Cement. Porters referred to as coolies have also benefited from increased movement of goods as well as people.
If one were to look beyond the angle of business and look at the angle of connectivity and people to people contact, this land crossing is important. It is especially important for members of separated families from both sides. This includes Hindus from the province of Sind in Pakistan who have relatives in India, and divided families of UP and Karachi and Malerkotla (Indian Punjab) and Pakistan. For divided families from Sind, the natural choice would be the Thar Express which ploughs between Rajasthan and Sind, yet they prefer the Wagah-Attari border due to the fact, that customs is less stringent, and they can carry more goods. In addition to this, the Munabao-Khokhrapar train route is overcrowded.
It is time, that the sections of society discussed above get a greater voice in the relationship between both countries, since it is they who are impacted the most both by tensions and better relations. It is also high time, that studies focused on the gains and losses of trade and business linkages of smaller traders and businessmen for whom Indo-Pak trade is a lifeline.
Image: Narinder Nanu-AFP, Getty