(dpa) - The Olympic torch relay started on Wednesday at the sprawling grounds of completely sealed-off Pakistan Sports Complex in the capital city Islamabad.Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani handed over the flame to the country's former field hockey team captain and Olympian Samiullah Khan.
Khan passed on the torch to the next athlete, Shabana Akhtar, the first female to represent the Islamic Republic in Olympics. She was among the 66 sporting icons and celebrities who were carrying the flame along the 3.5-kilometres-long course.
"The relay will promote the Olympics spirit, further deepen our friendship amongst each other and of course deepen our resolve for the Olympic movement," Pakistan Olympics Association (POA) president Arif Hassan said before the relay was started.
Cheering spectators gave a rousing ovation as the president's bodyguards in ceremonial dressing brought the lantern to the venue on a horse drawn carriage.
Fuwa, the five good-luck dolls, which are the official mascots of Beijing Olympics 2008, wiggled while the flags of Pakistan, China and the Olympics fluttered under a grey sky.
No demonstrations took place similar to those that have hounded the torch journey through Europe and United States, mainly because of the decades-long close friendship and deep cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad in the fields of defence and commerce.
However, tight security arrangements were in place for the relay owing to the security threats that emanate from pro-Taliban militants who have carried out a suicide bombing campaign across the country over the last one year.
Hundreds of military, paramilitary troops and policemen were deployed inside and around the sports complex. A group of elite commandos did not run with the runner as was originally planned, but a formal police escort followed the runners.
Earlier, the authorities changed the venue and shortened the relay route. Originally it was scheduled to be held on the streets of the capital.
The torch arrived in Islamabad in the early hours of Wednesday from Muscat, hours before Musharraf returned from Beijing after a six-day official visit to attend the colourful event. In China, he has condemned protests during torch relays in Western countries.
The flame's next stop will be in India on Thursday where the authorities were expecting protests from rights activists and Tibetan refugees.
A group of Tibetan protestors broke a tight security cordon in the vicinity of the presidential palace in New Delhi on Tuesday to stage a mock Olympic torch relay along the route of the official run scheduled for Thursday.