ISLAMABAD - Pakistan pressed ahead with its daily flag-lowering military ceremony at its only land border crossing with rival India Monday, a day after a suicide bomber killed around 60 people and wounded 100 others near the venue.
Local television stations carried a live broadcast of the popular ceremony at the Wagah crossing near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
Hundreds of people, including military officers, gathered at dusk to watch the elaborate show. As usual Pakistani and Indian soldiers kicked their feet high and grimaced in mock aggression in a peacock-like display of patriotism on their respective sides.
A day earlier, tourists and spectators were leaving the venue after watching Sunday's ceremony when a suicide bomber detonated explosives just 500 meters away. The powerful explosion killed scores of people, including women and children.
The head of Pakistan's security forces on the eastern border, Major-General Khan Tahir Javed Khan, told reporters the suicide bomber apparently wanted to strike the flag ceremony but a security cordon stopped him about 500 meters away.
The man detonated the explosives at a place where families had stopped to buy food after witnessing the ceremony.
In a statement Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, saying that such acts are never justified. He sent his condolences to the families of those killed and urged Pakistani authorities to quickly bring those responsible to justice.
Funerals for victims of Sunday’s bombing were held in Pakistan’s Punjab province that borders India. Authorities say an investigation into the attack is underway and investigators are examining body parts of the suspected bomber that were recovered from the scene.
Hospital officials say that some of those wounded are still battling for life.
A man being treated at a hospital in Lahore spoke to reporters, explaining that he had gone to watch the parade with his children. A minute after he stopped at a shop on the way out, the massive explosion occurred. All three of his children are also being treated at the hospital, and his five year old daughter is critically wounded.
Attack near the border crossing
Speaking to reporters, the regional Pakistan army commander, Lt. General Naweed Zaman, sympathized with the bereaved families.
“The holding of today’s ceremony is a clear demonstration that such cowardly [terrorist] attacks cannot weaken Pakistan’s resolve and determination,” he said.
His comments followed a chorus of criticism by Indian political leaders that followed Sunday's attack.
"I think the cause for concern is the fact that this incident took place so close to the Wagah border, which really means that if a perpetrator can reach that far, the probability is that the same kind of an attack can take place either on the Indian side or along the border," said Uday Bhaskar, Indian security expert.
Several militant groups, generally referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, have claimed responsibility for causing the bloodshed but there is no independent confirmation.
Human rights groups and newspaper editorials on Monday urged Pakistan's government to strengthen its intelligence-gathering system to preempt such terrorist attacks.
The militants claimed the attack was to avenge an ongoing Pakistan military offensive against suspected terrorist bases in the North Waziristan tribal territory near the Afghanistan border.
Sunday's violence was the first near the flag ceremony, which has been taking place since 1959.