Pakistan military holds first Republic Day parade in seven years

Pakistan military holds first Republic Day parade in seven years
Pakistani girls gather during a rehearsal for the Pakistan Day celebrations in Quetta on March 22, 2015.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan held its first Republic Day parade in seven years on Monday, full of flag-waving pomp and aerial military expertise, a symbolic show of strength in the war against the Taliban months after a militant attack on a school killed 132 children.

The Pakistan Day parade, complete with a 31-gun dawn salute, was held amid tight security. Cellular phone networks were blocked as a precaution to thwart any strike by militants, who have often used mobile phone signals to trigger bombs.

No parades had been held since 2008, following an escalation in the military's conflict with the Pakistani Taliban.

But the military says the militants have been on the run since the army launched an operation last year to dislodge insurgents from hideouts in the northwestern tribal regions of Khyber and North Waziristan, on the rugged border with Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who attended the parade, issued a statement warning of the threat from anti-state elements bent on destroying the country.

"Pakistan is resolved to redeem its pledge given to its founding fathers that it will protect the homeland," Sharif said in the statement.

Military jets and helicopters flew over the picturesque, low-rise city in the warm, spring sunshine, with a sky-diving team due to show off its skills against the backdrop of the Margalla Hills, the low, forested foothills of the Himalayas.

The show of military might has traditionally also sent a message to rival India. The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947 and continuing mistrust is a factor behind conflict in various parts of the region, including Afghanistan.

Relations between the two nosedived after deadly attacks on Mumbai in 2008, which India has always blamed on Pakistan-based militants, and have not fully recovered. A long-standing dispute over the Kashmir region periodically flares into violence.

Pakistani troops have boasted recent successes against the Taliban, who aim to topple the state and establish strict Islamic rule.

The military said on Sunday it had killed 80 "terrorists" in heavy clashes and suffered seven casualties. Fighter jets have pounded positions in the Tirah Valley in the Khyber region over the last few days.

The country is still in mourning after December's attack on the army-run high school in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Six gunmen believed linked to the Pakistani Taliban killed 153 people, 132 of them children.

Pakistan Day commemorates March 23, 1940, when the Muslim League demanded the establishment of separate nations to protect Muslims in the then British colony of India.

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