Will Pakistan be a good friend

The conflict between India and PakistanThe trauma of eternal enmity

It's a bizarre spectacle, every evening, just before sunset. The Wagah border crossing is transformed into an arena. There are grandstands on both sides, they are fully occupied. It is a folk festival between barbed wires, border towers, floodlight masts and machine guns.

"Pakistan Zindabad!" - Long live Pakistan, say hundreds of Pakistanis on their side. Border guards march in black parade uniforms. They wear hats that are reminiscent of the plume of a peacock. You almost run towards the green and white painted border gate. Fired on by the beat of the drums.

The only border crossing between India and Pakistan

Every step, every second of this ceremony is coordinated with the Indians. On the other side, the Indian side, the uniforms are beige, but also similar to a peacock. Here they shout "Hindustan Zindabad!" - Long live the land of the Hindus! At the same time, the peacock soldiers symbolically open the gates. The border guards face each other for a moment, chest out, chin up.

Wagah border crossing (dpa / CTK / Krystof Kriz)

In Wagah, between the Indian Amritsar and the Pakistani Lahore, the division of the Indian subcontinent is celebrated anew every day. Wagah is the only border crossing between Pakistan and India. If you want to cross the border, you can walk through the arenas, which are empty during the day. Armed soldiers suspiciously watch every step. A "Namaste" - "Hello" in Hindi - for the last Indian soldier directly on the white-painted borderline is followed by "Salaam Aleikum" for the first Pakistani soldier directly behind it. A large picture of Mahatma Gandhi adorns the Indian side, a picture of the founder of the state Jinnah on the Pakistani side.

Tea Time in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Muhammad Akram Khan apologizes. It could be that his memory is playing tricks on him, he says. Then he takes a deep breath, sips his tea, closes his eyes and remembers.

"I was born in 1941 in a small village near the river Beas, it was called Gadriwal. It is in India today. I can still remember my childhood there very well. I learned to swim in the river. The current was only in the monsoons too tearing. Otherwise we could always swim there. "

Gadriwal was a peaceful hamlet at the time. Akram Khan lived there for six years. His neighbors were mostly Muslim. But that didn't matter at the time, says Khan - until world politics also reached Gadriwal.

"In the summer of 1947 we were in the village. It was holidays. My father was a teacher. Then we learned that the village was about to be attacked by Hindus. We had to flee. We are across the river at night, in boats. During the day we have our way out Fear of the Hindus hiding in the fields. We were on the road for three nights until we reached the main road to Lahore. There were huge crowds there. "

One stroke of the pen on the map divides the Punjab

In Punjab, Akram Khan's homeland, public order had collapsed that summer of 1947. For decades the people of British India had fought for independence. After the Second World War, the colonial power Great Britain went bankrupt. She decided to give up the viceroyalty of India. The leader of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and the head of the Indian Congress Party, Jawaharlal Nehru, had not been able to agree on a unified state structure after World War II.

The Hindus outnumbered British India. Jinnah feared that the Muslims would have no political chance in a common state. The British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten agreed to Jinnah's request for a division. The pen strokes on the map were drawn by a British lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Radcliffe had no idea about India. But he had a simple idea: Muslim-majority districts should belong to Pakistan, the rest to India. Mixed areas were simply divided, including the former Kingdom of Punjab.

Harmandir Sahib - the "Golden Temple" in the city of Amritsar in Punjab (imago / imagebroker)

Millions of people decided to flee within a few hours after the new borders were announced. Gurbhajan Kaur comes from a wealthy Sikh family. She lived in the part of Punjab that was to belong to Pakistan. Gurbhajan was nine years old then, in 1947:

"That night the sirens suddenly wailed. People shouted: You have to go, you have to go! We had a huge house and tried to put everything we owned on wooden carts. My father went to the stables to get the animals. There they killed him. They just got his corpse in the river. "

Gurbhajan stares at the living room table and kneads her bony hands. Her grandchildren sit around her, otherwise they never want to hear her stories, says the 79-year-old. Above all, she can still remember her feelings from back then: the naked fear that accompanied her throughout the entire escape.

"We were completely upset. We girls in particular were very afraid. The men in our trek had daggers hidden under the animal feed."

The weapons were not only used to defend themselves against Muslims.

"If our men had sensed danger, they would have killed us girls with daggers."

Thousands died from exhaustion along the way

Elsewhere, fathers threw their own daughters into wells. No woman should get into the hands of the enemy. Yet many were kidnapped or raped, Muslim women by Hindus and Hindu women by Muslims. For days 9-year-old Gurbhajan ran with her family through the mud towards India. The monsoon rain pelted the refugees. 1947 newspapers report that it rained for 60 hours without a break in mid-August. Countless caravans dragged themselves over dirt roads, railroad tracks and roads across the new border. Thousands of children and old people died from exhaustion along the way.

The famous, peaceful struggle for freedom of Mahatma Gandhi ended in chaos and violence. More than a million people died. Up to 20 million left their homes. Those who reached their new homeland, Pakistan or India, were left with nothing.

Deprived. Shot at. To bury. Gurbhajan Kaur was born into a rich family. Their most valuable treasures lay on wooden carts that overturned while fleeing or got stuck in the mud. When she and her family arrived near Amritsar on the Indian side, all she had left was what she was wearing:

"An uncle first took us in on his farm. Later the Indian government gave us a piece of land here in Punjab that was even bigger than what we owned in Pakistan."

No winner after the war

Little did Akram Khan suspect in 1947 that fleeing his home village would not be his only adventure. Its history is closely linked to the consequences of the division, the trauma - and the eternal enmity between India and Pakistan, which continues to this day.

Khan tells of his 1965 deployment in Sialkot on the border with India. At that time a war broke out between the two states. Khan was a common soldier in the Pakistani army who was supposed to shoot down Indian tanks.

"But in truth we were only trying to survive. We almost only hid during the day, and when it was dark we ran away. I was in the field three times. I think I didn't catch a single tank."

The war ended without a winner. But he deepened the rifts between Indians and Pakistanis. After 1965, both states erected barbed wire fences on the common border. Akram Khan was promoted to the army - and in 1971 experienced Pakistan's most difficult hour: the loss of today's Bangladesh. At that time the country was still called East Pakistan. It was a thousand kilometers from the rest of Pakistan. Nowhere was the British demarcation more absurd than here.

Pakistan's brutal war against Bangladesh

But mainly Muslims lived in East Pakistan. The Pakistani army nonetheless waged a brutal war against the Bengali people, whose majority wanted to become independent. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered. India intervened in the conflict. In the middle of the jungle, Akram Khan and his unit fought against the advancing Indians - until several bullets from a submachine gun hit him.

"I fell, hid and tried to stop the bleeding with a cloth. Then I passed out. When I came to, someone gave me water. It was an Indian soldier."

The Indian army saved Akram Khan's life. He was nursed in a hospital south of New Delhi for ten months and then taken to a detention center. He was later allowed to return to Pakistan. His army had lost the war. Bangladesh had split off from Pakistan.

Cashmere - almost all wars broke out here

Pakistan had to come to terms with the loss of Bangladesh. The situation is different in the Kashmir Valley in the Himalayas. In 1947 the Maharaja of Kashmir, a Hindu, decided to incorporate his principality into the Indian state. To prevent this, Pakistan sent volunteer fighters and soldiers. Most of the Kashmiris are Muslims. India stopped the Pakistani fighters, but Kashmir was divided. Instead of a limit, there is a so-called "Line of Control". Both states claim the entire Kashmir Valley for themselves. India calls the Pakistani part "occupied by Pakistan". Pakistan, on the other hand, calls it "Azad Kashmir", which means something like free Kashmir. Both sides regularly shoot grenades over the "Line of Control". Almost all wars between the two states sparked off over the open Kashmir question.

India had always promised the Kashmiris autonomy, but had not kept these promises. When, in 1987, local elections were also rigged in favor of pro-Indian forces, an armed uprising broke out. Pakistan sent well trained "warriors of God". The Pakistani secret service built terrorist groups that are still active today. Young Indian Kashmiris took part in the uprising. India's army reacted brutally: tens of thousands disappeared in the 1990s.

Kashmir is divided and controversial between India and Pakistan (AFP / Tauseef Mustafa)

Akram Khan sips his tea. The retired army officer, who was part of all the wars against India, could tell for hours about his adventures as a soldier. But again and again his thoughts return to the village of his childhood: Gadriwal, which is now in India. The longing for the river in which he learned to swim, for the forest in which he played with his friends, was so great that Akram Khan wanted to return. In fact, he did it in the 1980s, and on a secret mission. Khan, an avid mountaineer, received an invitation from an Italian Alpine Club to an event in New Delhi.

"I got a visa because the Indians didn't know that I was in the Pakistani army. I secretly took the opportunity and drove to my home village. I told the people there that I was just a stranger passing through. The village has The old clay houses no longer stood. The residents now live in stone houses. I recognized the forest on the edge of the village and the river immediately. It was very emotional. Shortly afterwards I returned again. An Indian politician had invited me to a balloon festival in India. We had jointly obtained the pilot's license for balloonists in the USA. I got a visa that allowed me to visit several cities. So I also went to my home village. This time I gave my identity to be recognized People received me very, very kindly. I stayed in contact with some of them. "

The day bin Laden died

In 2011, almost 30 years after the first visits, Akram Khan received a visa for India again. This time he wanted to take his wife with him to his home village. Khan was now a 70 year old veteran. But nothing came of the visit. On the day the couple crossed the border into India, American special forces killed the terrorist godfather Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden had apparently lived unmolested in the middle of Pakistan. The friends from Gadriwal wanted nothing more to do with Akram Khan, the Pakistani.

In Wagah, the only border crossing between India and Pakistan, the evening parade is drawing to a close. Trumpeters blare their fanfares, officers in peacock costumes shout orders in drawn out tones. Whipers create a good atmosphere in the stands.

Two soldiers, one Indian and one Pakistani, raise the flags. Accurate to the second, completely synchronized, they fold the towels. Two other soldiers march to the border gates, the green and white on the Pakistani side and the orange, white and green on the Indian side. They stand opposite each other for a brief moment and look each other in the eye. Then they shake hands, very briefly, very firmly. The gates close. People are leaving no man's land. There is silence again, between barbed wire fences, watchtowers and machine guns.