ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday celebrated 70 years of independence from British India with a patriotic display including a giant flag and a show of air power, as the military’s top brass vowed to wipe out terrorists days after a deadly blast.
Celebrations began at the stroke of midnight with firework shows in major cities.
Wang Yang and Khaqan Abbasi arrive to attend a flag-hoisting ceremony to mark the country’s Independence Day in Islamabad. AFP
In Islamabad, President Mamnoon Hussain hoisted the national flag at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang, and scores of Pakistani military and government officials and other dignitaries.
At the highly symbolic Wagah eastern border crossing with India, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa raised a massive national flag on a 400-foot (122-metre) pole as crowds chanted patriotic slogans.
Following the chest-thumping performance, Bajwa said the country was making progress and promised to “go after each and every terrorist in Pakistan”.
“We have made a few mistakes in the past, but we are on the road to development under the guidance of our constitution,” he added.
A powerful bomb targeted a military vehicle in the restive capital of Balochistan province late on Saturday, killing 14 people including several troops.
The military later said the blast, claimed by the Daesh group, was intended to mar Independence Day celebrations.
Pakistan also faces fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court last month sacked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family.
In Islamabad, his newly-elected successor Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, along with top generals and foreign dignitaries, presided over a 31-gun salute and flag-raising ceremony to mark the holiday.
“The independence that we got 70 years ago was the fruit of the exemplary struggle of our ancestors,” said Abbasi in an address to the nation.
“Thousands of Muslims have made sacrifices for our future and the future of our children.”
Students hold national flags during a ceremony at the mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi on the occasion.
Further south in Karachi, the day began with a changing of the guard at the mausoleum of the country’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, where politicians and military commanders laid floral wreaths.
The skies above the capital were later streaked with multicoloured smoke as the air force hosted Pakistan’s largest air show to date.
Fighter jets criss-crossed over the leafy capital in aerobatic manoeuvres as thousands packed shoulder-to-shoulder applauded from a park below. Planes from close allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey also took part.
In Lahore, students cruised through the eastern city’s streets on motorbikes waving flags and screaming “Long live Pakistan!”
Up north in the Swat Valley near the restive border with Afghanistan, celebrations were more subdued, with events at schools cancelled due to “prevailing law and order” issues.
In nearby Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Christians held special services at a church and freed doves to mark the holiday.
Attendees singing patriotic songs during the celebrations at the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi.
“Four years back, my father and brother died in this church in a suicide attack, but I am still here praying for my beloved country,” schoolteacher Neelam Anwar told AFP.
Addressing the ceremony in the capital, President Hussain urged the nation to look to the wisdom of its founders when facing the current “hot” environment.
“Solutions to all the problems of this time persist in our ideologies, thoughts of leaders of our freedom movement and our bright history,” he said. “By following them, we can improve our situation today and our future as well.”
He appealed to the citizens to “rise above” their party and group interests and “protect the future of the nation.”
Later in the evening, Hussain was to hand out medals to noteworthy citizens.
Most recently, Pakistan’s political scene has been shaken when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office in July for concealing his family assets.
Sharif stepped down, allowing for Abbasi to take over, but decried the court’s ruling as an injustice and vowed to clear his name. Then he embarked last week on a series of on-the-road rallies, spanning four days and covering the stretch from Islamabad to his hometown, the eastern city of Lahore where he addressed tens of thousands of supporters.
Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang said his country considers Pakistan an important partner in the “Belt and Road Initiative” that calls for Beijing building ports, railways and other facilities in a vast arc spanning 65 countries, including Pakistan.