Extremist groups protest Pak decision to reopen NATO routes
Thousands of members of extremist groups in Pakistan launched a long march from Lahore to Islamabad against the government`s decision to reopen vital NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
Lahore: Thousands of members of an alliance of religious and extremist groups in Pakistan on Sunday launched a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad against the government`s decision to reopen vital NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
Workers and leaders of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council, formed last year by Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, assembled at Nasser Bagh and set off for Islamabad in buses, cars and motorcycles.
Saeed and other DPC leaders are leading the long march and the protestors are expected to reach the federal capital tomorrow.
The organisers said the protestors would reach Gujrat district of Punjab province later today.
After halting for the night at Gujrat city, the march will resume tomorrow morning.
The number of participants is expected to swell the march reaches Muridke and Gujranwala, where the JuD enjoys considerable support.
Addressing the protestors, Saeed said the government had sold Pakistan`s sovereignty and autonomy for aid from the US.
He claimed the US and its allies were suffering losses of billions of dollars a day in Afghanistan.
He demanded that the US should withdraw its forces from the region, vacate all Pakistani airbases and stop drone attacks in the tribal belt.
Saeed claimed the US had paid Pakistan back for reopening the supply routes by carrying out a drone strike that killed over 20 people.
He further claimed the DPC would force the government to change its decision to reopen the supply lines.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-S chief Maulana Sami-ul-Haq and Jamat-e-Islami head Munawar Hasan also addressed the protestors.
As the protestors reached Shahdara, former ISI chief
Hamid Gul was taken to a nearby hospital after he complained of chest pains. Officials said he was out of danger.
In a related development, senior adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik said the government would not block the long march but leaders of banned groups in the DPC would be arrested if they tried to enter Islamabad.
He said everyone, including the DPC, had the right to organise protests but the government will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands.
The DPC organised the long march after the government last week reopened supply lines to Afghanistan, which were closed last year after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan decided to reopen the routes after the US apologised for the NATO attack.
Speaking to reporters in Lahore, ruling Pakistan People`s Party vice chairman Yousuf Raza Gilani described the leaders of the DPC as "old jihadis" and said pressure from the grouping would not affect the government.
"These are the same people who had gone for jihad when the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. We did not open or close the supply routes on their say so.
We did what was in the interests of the country and the people. The government is at the helm of affairs and it will make the decisions, not the DPC," former premier Gilani said.
Interior Ministry chief Malik further said foolproof security will be provided to NATO convoys going to Afghanistan.