Pakistan celebrated it’s 60th anniversary of independence from Britain today.
Gunfire during boisterous Independence Day celebrations left two women dead and 19 people injured, officials said.
President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, in speeches and appearances celebrating the milestone, praised Pakistan’s emergence as a Muslim nation with an important international role, but warned its people they must not succumb to extremism.
They renewed vows not to let any nation violate Pakistan’s sovereignty - comments apparently directed at the United States rather than long-time rival India – and Aziz said becoming the world’s first nuclear-armed Muslim country remained a point of national pride.
In the capital, Islamabad, 31 artillery guns fired at daybreak, marking the start of ceremonies to celebrate August 14, 1947, when independence was granted by British colonial rulers and the subcontinent was partitioned into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India.
India was due to hold its independence celebrations tomorrow.
In Karachi, the country’s largest city, military cadets ceremonially changed the guard at the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder.
Flag-raising ceremonies and more 21-gun salutes occurred across the country.
Overnight, cheering revellers poured onto the streets in the otherwise staid capital in cars or motorcycles festooned with Pakistani flags. Fireworks crackled into the night, despite driving monsoon rains.
Two women were killed when they were hit by stray pistol bullets during late night celebrations in Karachi, said Sarwar Channa, a doctor at the Civil Hospital where the victims were taken. Nineteen people were injured in gunfire.
Three people were injured in a brawl between two groups of revellers in another southern city, Hyderabad, police officer Imran Shaukat said.
The Queen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown each sent messages of congratulations to Musharraf and Aziz.
Musharraf, a close US ally in the fight against terrorism, is seeking another term as the military head of state, but faces the toughest challenge to his rule since taking power in a 1999 coup.
Musharraf’s bid to remove independent-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry backfired, drawing street protests and calls for greater democracy, and he is under pressure from Washington to do more to fight al Qaida and Taliban militants in the north-west tribal region bordering Afghanistan. A wave of suicide bombings and other violence have killed more than 380 people since early July.
In a statement marking the anniversary, the president urged Pakistanis to reject extremism at the coming elections.
“I urge all Pakistani citizens to get involved in the electoral process and become the instruments of enlightened moderation in their beloved country,” Musharraf said.
Aziz, addressing a gathering of hundreds of government officials, diplomats and school children in Islamabad, said: “Our nuclear assets are symbols of our national honour and sovereignty. The nation has always displayed solidarity and unity for them. And we will never tolerate that anyone should look with a dirty eye at our nuclear assets.”
In an apparent reference to talk among US officials about possible unilateral US strikes against terrorists in Pakistan, Aziz said “we will never allow any foreign power to interfere in our frontiers.”
He said Pakistan would show respect to its neighbours.
On the eve of Independence Day, Pakistan sent home 134 Indian prisoners who had crossed the border illegally. India returned the gesture today, freeing 70 Pakistani prisoners.
In recent years, the long-time South Asian rivals have held negotiations aimed at normalising relations and settling a bitter dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir – the source of two of their three wars since 1947.
In the weeks preceding partition, up to 1 million people are believed to have been killed in religious rioting and sectarian fighting. Officials asked that one minute of silence be observed Tuesday to commemorate those who died.
In Baluchistan province, about 150 ethnic Baluch nationalists demonstrated amid tight security in the capital, Quetta, to demand the release of prisoners in government custody, said Tariq Masood Khosa, police chief of Baluchistan province.