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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
Historic independence celebrations
By Asit Jolly
BBC correspondent at Wagah

Joint Indian and Pakistan independence day celebrations
Those attending the event called for peace

For the first time in history, Indians and Pakistanis have held joint independence day celebrations in a further sign of the recent thaw in relations between the two enemy nations.

Pakistani parliamentarians crossed into the north Indian state of Punjab to participate in a joint, midnight candle-lit vigil on the Indian side of the international border at Wagah.

Each year, Pakistan celebrates its independence from British rule on 14 August, and India marks its freedom a day later.

Those attending the event said they hoped public sentiment in the local area would persuade leaders of both countries to abandon the path of confrontation and open their borders to each other.

The group of 12 Pakistani parliamentarians and some of their family members travelled across the border on Thursday afternoon.

They joined enthusiastic members of the India-Pakistan Friendship Forum in a midnight celebration of 56 years of their countries' independence and a prayer for lasting peace and friendly relations.

The Pakistanis and their Indian hosts lit candles on the "zero line" at the Wagah Border - the only official road crossing between the two countries - to symbolise what they hope will be a new beginning.

Thousands of border villagers took part in the event, and both sides of the ceremonial border post were decorated with colourful lights in keeping with the distinct mood of celebration.

Shared optimism

Pakistani National Assembly member and co-ordinator of the delegation, Aitizaz Ahsan, said: "It is important to first share each other's happiness. insha'allah [God willing] we all will soon be in a position to divide each other's sorrow."

Citing the four India-Pakistan conflicts as proof that there could never be a military solution to the problems between the two nations, he pointed out that the fighting had resolved nothing and had in fact taken the two neighbours further apart.

Joint Indian and Pakistan independence day celebrations
Thousands turned out to celebrate the historic event
Mr Ahsan's colleague and Pakistan Senate member, Sardar Latif Khosa, said though Kashmir continued to be the cause for tension, there were far more serious and immediate problems like poverty and illiteracy that both nations needed to address.

Indian film actor Raj Babbar, who is a prominent members of the India-Pakistan Friendship Forum, predicted that the barriers would come crashing down. He said this would occur sooner than anybody now imagines.

Mr Babbar's optimism was clearly shared by every one of the thousands that thronged the Wagah Border till well past midnight.

The young and the old happily danced away to songs sung live by popular Punjabi folk singers.

The normally deserted road leading from Wagah, south to Amritsar city, remained jammed with traffic and crowds of people.

It was almost as if the old highway to Lahore in Pakistan had miraculously been thrown open.



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