Hundreds of Pakistanis took to the streets in Islamabad on Monday to take part in an anti-US demonstration organised by a coalition of right-wing, religious and banned organisations.
The rally is the latest show of support for Defence of Pakistan, a coalition of around 40 parties chaired by a cleric considered the father of the Taliban that include organisations blacklisted at home and abroad as terror groups.
Banners were strung up in a bustling commercial area of Islamabad denouncingUS drone strikes, the government’s decision to grant India most favoured nation status in a bid to ease trade, and re-opening the Afghan border to NATO convoys.
“Go America Go,” “No to NATO,” “Arrogant Americans – others are also human beings,” and “the chains of slavery will now break up,” read the banners.
Thousands of people were expected to attend the rally with hundreds of riot police, armed with batons and wearing bullet-proof jackets deployed ahead of the demonstration, an AFP reporter said.
The government has banned three key members of the alliance from attending the rally, including Hafiz Saeed, who heads Jamaat-ud-Dawa, seen as a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Organisers said they would not challenge the ban.
“We have installed 10,000 chairs for today’s rally and expect a very successful show,” Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for JuD, told AFP.
“Hafiz Muhammad Saeed will not come to Islamabad to avoid confrontation with the government and will not attend the rally,” Mujahid said.
The alliance, which uses Twitter and Facebook to promote its message, was set up after US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border in late November, which saw Pakistan shut its Afghan border to NATO supplies.
It has organised a series of rallies that have attracted large crowds in major cities and some expect them to contestPakistan’s next general election, which could be held within months.
One of their key leaders is Hamid Gul, who headed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency during the 1980s Pakistani-sponsored war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan that gave rise to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Its chairman is Maulana Sami ul-Haq, who has been dubbed father of the Taliban for running an extremist madrassa that educated several Taliban leaders at Akora Khattak, near Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar.