Pakistani Islamists march against NATO, US
Islamabad (AFP): About 5,000 Pakistani Islamists who oppose the anti-terrorism alliance with Washington began a march to the border Saturday in protest over the reopening of NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
The protesters joined a convoy of buses, trucks and cars, many carrying the black-and-white striped flags of their Defence of Pakistan coalition movement.
They will make stop-overs in various cities and towns on the 120-kilometre (74-mile) highway from the southwestern city of Quetta to the town of Chaman, on the border with Afghanistan, where they will arrive on Sunday.
Pakistan reopened overland routes to NATO convoys crossing into neighbouring Afghanistan on July 3 after closing them in protest at a US air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
“We have started this march to protest against the resumption of NATO supply. We warn our government to get out of the war on terrorism,” Defence of Pakistan chairman Maulana Samiul Haq said as the convoy set off.
“If they think that the United States’ war is only against Afghanistan, they are wrong. The US will target all the Muslim countries after strengthening its control on Afghanistan,” Haq said.
“But we won’t allow them to do this, we will fight against them and will fail their plans.”
The Defence of Pakistan has attracted large turnouts at rallies across the country, which some see as a build-up to the formation of a political party to contest the next general election, widely expected within the next year.
The convoy is scheduled to reach Chaman on Sunday, however the protesters are unlikely to disrupt traffic at the border because the march has been declared peaceful.
“We don’t have any plan to go on the crossing point on the border, instead we will stage a rally inside the Chaman town and closer to the Afghanistan border,” Abdul Sattar Chishti, a local organiser of the march, told AFP.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar have hailed the reopening of the supply routes, saying the allies were putting tensions behind them.