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Pakistan Lifts Ban on Politics in Tribal Areas on Independence Day

Pakistani President Asif Zardari lifted a ban on political activities in the country's tribal regions Friday, as Pakistanis held celebrations marking the country's Independence Day.

Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border have never been integrated into the country's political and administrative system, allowing militants and tribal elders to hold sway.

The change is the first major break with the system Pakistan inherited from Britain, which ruled the region until the country gained independence in 1947.

Police and security forces were on high alert during Independence Day celebrations across Pakistan to prevent militant groups from disrupting festivities.

Children in the capital of Islamabad sang songs and waved Pakistani flags. In Karachi, military officers marched in a parade while the Pakistan Naval Academy band played.

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan wants peace with all of its neighbors, and he expressed hope that talks with India will progress. He also reiterated the government's resolve to defeat terrorism.

Mr. Zardari also called on the people to adhere to principles of democracy and human rights, and to defeat dictatorship and extremism to help provide economic opportunities in the country.

Also Thursday, Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani told the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul that Islam will always be the "soul and spirit" of Pakistan. But he criticized terrorists, saying they try to impose their "narrow and distorted" version of Islam by force.

Pakistan was created after India gained independence from Britain in 1947. The subcontinent was divided into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India.

During the partition, some 10 million people are estimated to have crossed the borders in both directions. Hundreds of thousands of people died in sectarian fighting during the partition process.

Pakistani officials in India also marked the country's independence, celebrating at the High Commission in New Delhi.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.