The Korean borders: Another version of Wagah border?

Should demarcations, borders, boundaries or defenders of the blurry end tell us who we are?

Anam Gill February 25, 2014
I have always wanted to go to Imjingak, located near Seoul, in South Korea. Being a media professional, my wish was granted when I got to travel to the Freedom Bridge for a news feature I was doing for Madang Live.

Having woken up to rain, we made it to Imjingak where the Freedom Bridge lies. Photography was prohibited, except where we were given explicit permission. We were not allowed to point at anyone or anything. If a North Korean waved at us, we were not allowed to wave back.

Freedom Bridge, with its striking ribbons conveying the hope of millions for Korea’s reunification, added colour to the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The Korean DMZ splits up the Korean peninsula in two, setting out a buffer zone which cannot be inhabited.

Visitors are bussed every year to this most militarised, mine-laden border in the world.

Tourists walk on the Bridge of Freedom in front of the Imjingak Pavilion, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul. Photo: Reuters

While standing at the freedom bridge in Paju, South Korea, my mind began racing and I was transported to the Wagah border (between India and Pakistan). The act of the bizarre ‘Beating Retreat ceremony’ flashed before me, where paramilitary border guards take part in an exaggerated military drill. Pakistani and Indian guards march, slamming their feet to the ground before the border gates are closed. For years, they have taunted each other with puffed up chests and raised fists.

At the border, we entered the universe of control, where our liberty was stripped away and even as a child, while watching the Beating Retreat ceremony, I couldn’t understand why the crowds on both sides of the border were cheering.

Should demarcations, borders, boundaries or defenders of the blurry end tell us who we are?

At the end of the day, even the freest of free societies are un-free.

Yes, I could relate to the Korean division.

The Wagha Border. Photo: AFP

I can never forget the day when I crossed the Wagah border by foot and took a picture while standing between the demarcations. In that instance, I was making fun of the coercive forces which are charged with administering separations of all kinds – especially when they are based on imaginary differences.

In 1945, it was agreed that USSR and USA would divide Korea between them. In half an hour, a map and a ruler were given to the US colonels on the 38th parallel. A decision was made that a line would cut across a thousand years of Korea’s history as a unified nation. Contrary to economic logic, the resulting halves were interdependent; the south was given over to agriculture whereas industry was concentrated in the north.

Most importantly, the division was against the wishes of the Korean population.

Tourists look at South Korean flags and reunification banners hung on a barbed wire fence, on Freedom Bridge at Imjingak pavilion near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul. Photo: Reuters

Without doubt, historians should be able to agree that the artificial division of a country usually creates more problems than it solves. The twentieth century is full of examples: Ireland in 1921, Germany after each of the two world wars, the Partition of India in 1947, the creation of Israel in 1948 and the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to name a few.

The nation’s long history, economic situations, and public opinion were ignored while fostering the Korean divide in 1945. Polarisation of North and South under the Soviet and American occupation, in addition to the aggressive regimes supported by the superpowers, had ruled out peaceful reunification.

Koreans have always wanted to be reunited.

They want to be reunited with their families on both sides of the border.

(Video courtesy: Produced by Anam Gill for Madang Live. Copyrights to World Council of Churches (WCC) 10 Assembly)

Moving toward sunshine policy, toward reconciliation, will be a step forward to reduce human rights violations. It’s going to be a challenge; however, it is the only possible solution contradictory to undermining democracy and human rights.

While walking around, I noticed that the Korean DMZ  which is rich in agriculture and nature. Seeing a grey heron flying across the sodden rice fields, unaware of the worldly hurdles, made me mock the imaginary differences putting millions in misery.

Crossing a frontier transforms you, it is said, as it is a wake-up call. At the frontier, we have to face the truth. Insulating us against the bitter realities of the world, the comforting layers of the quotidian are stripped away there. Standing wide-eyed at the frontier, we see things as they are.

Indeed, that place transformed me; it made me realise that it’s time to build bridges, break the cycle of revenge and violence and embrace the power of empathy.
Anam Gill
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

Facebook Conversations


Naila | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend ----"and have a clear gora complex(one of the reasons why Bengalis asked you to go somewhere)."- Yep you are clearly one of those people who are always ready for an argument with their boxing gloves on and a list of topics in your back pocket. The person did not even mention skin colour. I bet you will bring up another topic replying to my comment, without even reading this essay that I wrote. And since you "don't care what it (The Holy Quran) says, just what its followers do." I am not going to use it to clear any doubt of neither racism nor rejection based upon skin colour. However, if non-Muslims can "look at Islam objectively" then please let me know where your attitude regarding Pakistan and Islam came from, cos I would like to trace it back and hopefully correct it.
Naila | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend After reading ~10? ET articles on this topic, you are concluding this.... Yes I agree that regional languages are suffering, but Pakistanis are used to it? IF they were used to it, you wouldnt be seeing these articles against it and to clarify, we are not used to it. Who gave you the right to decide that they are? I, a Pakistani, am telling you that we are not used to it. Get to know some Pakistanis man! OR maybe you dont want to, as then most of the things you say about us will be proven incorrect! cont.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ