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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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Pakistan celebrates 70 years of Independence amidst huge fanfare, as leaders rake up Kashmir issue

Festivities in Pakistan started with a 31-gun salute

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan 14 August- As Pakistan celebrated 70 years of independence with great pomp and fanfare, top leaders reiterated their support for Kashmir’s right to self-determination.

The festivities in Pakistan started with a 31-gun salute in the federal and 21-gun salute in the provincial capitals.

The main Independence Day ceremony was held in the decked up Islamabad Convention Center where Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif unfurled the national flag. The Speaker of the National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, federal ministers, services chiefs, diplomats of various countries, First Lady Begum Mehmooda Mamnoon and citizens were also in attendance.

Opening the ceremony, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dedicated the Independence Day celebrations to the divided Kashmir region. "I dedicate this year's 14 August to the freedom of [Indian-held] Kashmir. I dedicate it to those people who have bravely faced state oppression but kept the spirit of freedom alive," Sharif said.

The PM also paid tribute to the civilians and soldiers who had lost their lives in a blast at a hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta.

During his Independence Day address, Pakistan's President also remembered the victims of the bomb blast and promised to avenge the loss inflicted by the terrorist groups. 

Over 70 people were killed in a bomb blast in Quetta for which the Islamic state and a Pakistan Taliban group had claimed responsibility.

The President also broached the Kashmir issue asking citizens to remember the people of Kashmir on Independence Day.

“Pakistan cannot forget Kashmiris and would continue to support them to get right of self-determination in light of the UN resolution,” he said.

Hussain also spoke about the internal challenges that Pakistan faces and about the importance of tackling and eradicating militancy. He pointed out that the country’s future lies in a strong democracy.

At the close of his address, the President urged the people to shun differences and work hard for the prosperity of the country.

The celebrations which started at midnight with fireworks in Islamabad’s Shakarparian parade ground, spilt over to the streets.

Flag hoisting ceremonies were conducted at provincial capitals and district headquarters as major buildings were decorated with lights, banners, national flags, posters of national leaders. Arfa Software Technology Park, the tallest building in Lahore was exclusively draped in a 100 feet long and 120 feet wide national flag.

A change of guard was carried out in Lahore with a contingent of the Pakistan Army taking charge from Punjab Rangers.

Mobile services were disrupted in 40 cities during the Independence Day celebrations fearing terror attacks. After 10 am (local time) services began to be restored slowly. The order of suspension was reportedly given by the Ministry of Interior to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

Kashmir has been a contentious issue for Pakistan and its neighbor, India. Both parties claim their right to the state. A UN Security Council resolution in 1948 had called for a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmir. Pakistan has repeatedly cited the resolution to support the Kashmir's right to self-determination.

Recently, Pakistan even offered to send supplies to Kashmir, an offer which was snubbed by India. 

Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs had made India's stand categorically clear with the tweet - “India and others in the region have already received enough of Pakistan’s trademark exports-international terrorism, cross-border infiltrators, weapons, narcotics and fake currency."

Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit had also provoked the Indian government with his statement that Pakistan’s Independence Day this year is dedicated to Kashmir’s 'azaadi' (freedom).

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