Thousands of Pakistani activists marched toward the Afghan border yesterday, condemning the government’s decision to end a seven-month blockade on NATO supplies into Afghanistan.
The march was organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami 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.
Party leaders said 50,000 people would join the protest from the northwestern city of Peshawar to the nearby town of Jamrud, close to the Afghan border.
However, around 8,000 people gathered in Peshawar late on Monday and the crowd thinned to half overnight as they camped out in a park, witnesses said.
Banners in the park read “Yes to Peace, No to NATO” and “No more NATO, no more killings of Muslims.”
Pakistan announced on July 3 that it had decided to reopen overland routes to NATO convoys crossing into Afghanistan, after they were closed following US air strikes that killed 24 soldiers on the Afghan border in November last year.
However, only a few NATO trucks have actually trickled across the border, with owners waiting 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.
Members of the crowd said yesterday that Islamabad’s decision to reopen the border, despite the US eventually apologizing for the deaths, was “treason.”
“The rulers have sold their blood for US dollars but we will continue to oppose it,” said Mohammad 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.