Pakistan: Huge protests against US deal to reopen supply line to Afghanistan

Supporters of The Defense of Pakistan coalition take part in a protest rally from Lahore to Islamabad. They oppose their country's anti-terror alliance with Washington and are angered by the reopening of a NATO supply route to Afghanistan.
Arif Ali

A convoy of hard-line Islamists in Pakistan is making its way to the capital Islamabad in protest at the government's decision to allow the US and other NATO countries to resume sending troop supplies through the country to Afghanistan.

Associated Press says that the demonstration has been organized by a coalition of politicians and religious leaders known as the Difah-e-Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan Council), who are the most vocal opponents of the alliance with Washington.

Pakistan closed the route in November in retaliation for US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops. However, the government agreed to reopen it last week after the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the deaths.

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AFP describes how thousands of the Council's supporters have formed a convoy of buses, trucks and cars, to make the 170-mile journey from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad. Many were carrying the black and white striped flags of the Council.

“This is the beginning of our struggle. We want the USA to not only leave Afghanistan, but Pakistan also,” Defense of Pakistan coalition chairman Maulana Samiul Haq is quoted as saying.  “This movement will continue until the government severs all contacts with United States and NATO,” Haq said.

Pakistan's The Nation said police had put the number of demonstrators at around 8,000, but other reports suggested there were between 20,000 and 25,000 people taking part.

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Among the demonstration's leaders is Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, that left 164 people dead, according to CNN.   The news service says Hamid Gul, the so-called "father of the Taliban," and Syed Munawar Hassan, the leader of Pakistan's largest religious party Jamat-e-Islami were also involved.   It remarked that most of the protesters appeared to be supporters of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the US identifies as a terrorist group.

The convoy is expected to reach Islamabad on Monday, UPI says.