Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Border sentinels

The BSF's Sadqi border observation post in Fazilka adjoins Pakistan's Sulemanki post.
The BOP is the third place in the state after Wagah and Hussainiwala where
the Retreat ceremony takes place every evening,
writes S.P.Sharma

SADQI is a little-known border observation post (BOP) of the BSF in the newly-created Fazilka district of Punjab. It is no less than the Wagah joint check-post in Amritsar. This BOP with Pakistan's Sulemanki post on the other side of the barbed wire fence is the third place in the state where the Retreat ceremony is held every evening when the national flags of both countries are unfurled.

The BOP is 14 km away from Fazilka. It is virtually mini Wagah where BSF personnel and Pakistani Rangers perform the Retreat ceremony on their respective soils. However, in Wagah and Hussainiwala, the forces of the two sides march much closer. You can hear patriotic songs of yesteryear being played at high volume as you step into the BOP area.

BSF soldiers hold the Tricolour during the Retreat ceremony at the Sadqi border post

Pakistani Rangers lower their national flag at the Retreat ceremony across Sadqi Photos by the writer

What goes to the credit of the Malwa region is that it hosts the Retreat ceremony at two places — Sadqi and Hussainiwala. Both these places were earlier in Ferozepore district but now the former has come into the jurisdiction of Fazilka district.

What is common between Wagah and Sadqi is that a meeting between BSF personnel and Rangers is held every month at these two places to sort out local issues.

What is lacking here is the large number of visitors to witness the colourful ceremony. However, the crowd is bigger during holidays on Saturday and Sunday when men, women and children from the neighbouring areas of Haryana and Rajasthan come to witness the ceremony. BSF soldiers say that during week days 40 to 50 persons come to witness the Retreat, and the number goes up to 200 on Sundays.

Vimal Satyarthi, DIG, BSF (Abohar Range), says that the Sadqi BOP is gradually catching up with Wagah and Hussainiwala. It is also being given a facelift.

While the BSF, after the Retreat, allows the visitors to have a closer glimpse of the Pakistani post from this side of the barbed wire fencing, no such activity is noticed on the other side of the border, where a handful of visitors cheer the Rangers by clapping.

Satyarthi says that an unexpected number of about 15,000 visitors descended to witness the Retreat on Independence Day last year, and the number is expected to increase to about 20,000. The civil administration of Fazilka has been informed and asked to take precautionary steps to regulate the crowd.

He says that two platoons of the BSF will be separately deployed to maintain order in and around the BOP area.

The Retreat ceremony is a spectacular affair at Sadqi where the Sulemanki post of Pakistan is situated on a small hillock. The Indian BOP is at a lower elevation but the parade of the Pakistani Rangers wearing blacksalwars and shirts is also visible from this side. The distance between Sadqi and Sulemanki is about 150 metres but the commands of the officers on both sides during the Retreat are clearly audible.

Both border posts are divided by a creek, and the Pakistanis are filling the depression on their side with sand and mud to create a platform, apparently to enable the Retreat ceremony to be held at the ground level of the BSF. The ceremony is held at 6.30 pm in summers and at 5 pm in winters.

There is a marked difference between the two BOPs. While the BSF allows the farmers to cultivate their fields right up to the zero line, the Pakistani post is surrounded by elephant grass and other wild vegetation.

On the Indian side, personnel of the women battalion of the BSF have also been deployed on guard duty. They frisk the women who accompany their menfolk for working in the fields.

Before 1961, the Indian territory extended up to the Sulemanki headworks, but it was transferred to Pakistan following a treaty. As a result of this, the Sadqi BOP came into existence. In the pre-Partition days, Sadqi was a major trade route to Multan, now in Pakistan.
This is also considered a strategic spot from the defence point of view

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