Thousands of Pakistani activists shouted “death to America” on Tuesday at the latest rally protesting the lifting of a seven-month blockade on NATO supplies into Afghanistan.
The march was organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) political party, a leading member of the Defense of Pakistan coalition of right wing and Islamist groups that have demanded mass protests against the July 3 lifting of the blockade.
“NATO supplies not acceptable,” “Our war will continue,” “Friends of U.S. are traitors,” shouted the crowd after marching from the northwestern city of Peshawar to the nearby town of Jamrud.
Leaders of JI, which has no seats in parliament, had said 50,000 people would take part in the demonstration, but far fewer made it to Jamrud, close to Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan.
Local administration official Bakhtiar Khan put the figure at between 18,000 and 20,000, although an AFP photographer estimated the numbers to be closer to 8,000 to 10,000.
“We want an end to U.S. slavery, an end to U.S. interference, a ban on NATO supplies through Pakistan and an end to U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan,” JI leader Munawar Hussain said, addressing the crowd.
“The war against terror has killed 40,000 people and destroyed peace in the country,” he added.
Pakistan on July 3 decided to reopen overland routes to NATO convoys crossing into Afghanistan, after they were closed following U.S. air strikes that killed 24 soldiers on the Afghan border last November.
The crisis was the worst episode in Pakistan’s decade-long partnership with the U.S. in the war in Afghanistan, with both capitals still struggling to overcome a breakdown in trust.
So far only a few NATO trucks have actually trickled across the border, with owners awaiting a deal on compensation for seven months’ missed work and security guarantees in the southern port city of Karachi.
The Pakistani Taliban have threatened to attack NATO trucks and their drivers.
There was no sign Tuesday that the protesters would march on the Afghan border itself, despite insistence from Defense of Pakistan that they would bring a halt to NATO traffic.
Local administrator Khan said the demonstrators themselves had decided to call a halt in Jamrud, rather than continue further up the mountains to the Torkham border crossing.
“We did not create any hurdle in their protest march. They themselves decided not to go beyond Jamrud,” he told AFP.
Mainstream political parties in Pakistan have not taken part in the anti-NATO protests.
Members of the crowd told AFP on Tuesday that Islamabad’s decision to reopen the border, despite the United States eventually apologizing for the deaths, was “treason.”
“The rulers have sold their blood for U.S. dollars but we will continue to oppose it,” said Mohammed Amin, a shopkeeper from the northwestern Swat valley, where the Pakistani army in 2009 defeated a two-year Taliban insurgency.
Officials in Karachi say the dispute on compensation could be resolved this week.
At the Afghan border crossing of Chaman, in Pakistan’s remote southwestern province of Baluchistan, officials said only one NATO truck crossed into Afghanistan on Tuesday.
“Thirty-nine trucks carrying food supplies for NATO are parked at the border. Today we cleared eight vehicles, but only one crossed as seven others were denied entry by Afghan officials for lacking some documents,” Pakistani customs official Hassan Agha told AFP.