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Wagah border flag-waving 'Uncle Pakistan' dead

world Updated: Oct 24, 2012 21:40 IST

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After 10 years of whipping up crowds at the elaborate daily ceremony to close Pakistan and India's main land border crossing, the flag-waving star of the Pakistani side of the show has died.

Huge crowds gather on both sides of Wagah border post each sunset to see the display of military preening and pageantry, and for a decade Mehr Din, known as Uncle Pakistan, led his compatriots in cheering on their men.

Dressed in the vivid green and white of the Pakistani flag, Din, who died on Sunday aged 90, was as familiar a figure at Wagah, near the eastern city of Lahore.

Din sold vegetables and did other menial jobs before making his regular trips to the flag-lowering ceremony, his nephew Mohammad Altaf told AFP.

Eventually the Pakistani Rangers, the Border Security Force, started paying him 14,000 rupees ($150) a month for his services and transporting him to the ceremony when he was not well enough to go by himself.

Reporting his death, the Express Tribune newspaper hailed Din as "chief patriot" and "custodian of national pride", while a border official said he was the "motivating force" at the ceremonies.

"We will miss him. His slogan raising and flag waving was very heartwarming and patriotic," the official told AFP.

"He had become part and parcel of the flag lowering ceremony."

Altaf said his uncle was motivated by a dislike of India borne of the bloodshed that followed partition in 1947 as well as a deep-seated love of his country -- and its armed forces.

"He never married and used to say 'I am married to my country'," Altaf said.

"He used to carry the portraits of General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf," he said, referring to the military dictators who ruled Pakistan between 1977-1988 and 1999-2008.

Din was buried on Sunday in his ancestral village, near the border, and the Rangers held an honours ceremony as a mark of respect, Altaf said.