WAGAH (Pakistan): Thousands of people thronged the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan yesterday to celebrate Independence Day while hailing moves aimed at normalising relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war just two years ago but relations began to thaw since April last year when former Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan.
Border guards on this side hoisted the national flag in a festive atmosphere as hundreds of men, women and children waved across and greeted border guards and people on the Indian side.
The anniversary marks the end of British rule in the subcontinent in 1947.
Soon after the flag ceremony, Brig Sakhi Marjan of the Pakistan Rangers presented a crate of traditional Pakistani sweets to Indian Border Security Force deputy commander Pardeep Katyal.
The rival officers greeted each other as Katyal accepted the gift with a smile.
The Indian border side of Attari has also been decorated with golden buntings, as they will be celebrating their Independence Day today.
Katyal will reciprocate with a gift of sweets for his Pakistani counterparts today.
Streams of people, including youth carrying miniature flags, continued to pour in throughout the day to join the festive scene at Wagah, witnesses said.
No anti-India slogans were heard, they said.
As crowds surged, vendors from the nearby city of Lahore rushed to set up stalls selling snacks, fruit and cold drinks.
The two countries have restored cross-border bus services, exchanged ambassadors and resumed air links, suspended after the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-backed militants.
India has frequently accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism by Islamic rebels fighting Indian forces in Kashmir.
Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations.
The two countries this week concluded talks on the thorny issue of terrorism, co-operation in fighting drug trafficking and on boosting bilateral trade.
Foreign secretaries will meet in New Delhi on Sept 4 to prepare for foreign ministers' talks on Sept 5 and Sept 6, also in the Indian capital. AFP
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