Thousands of members of hardline and outlawed extremist groups joined a rally in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Sunday, with Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed using the occasion to target the US and India.
In a fiery speech, Saeed said the 40-odd members of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council would oppose any move by Pakistan to give India Most Favoured Nation-status.
"India will not be a favoured nation. We will not let Pakistan become a market for India," he said as members of banned groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Sipah-e-Sahaba shouted slogans against India and in support of jihad.
Saeed and his aides had maintained a low profile after the UN Security Council declared the JuD a front for the banned LeT in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks. Though he was placed under house arrest in late 2008, Saeed was freed on the orders of the Lahore High Court in less than six months.
Since last year, Saeed has stepped up his public appearances and attacks on India even as the trial of seven Pakistani suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, including LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, stalled for a variety of technical reasons.
Saeed has played a key role in cobbling together the Defa-e-Pakistan Council, a grouping of some 40 hardline and extremist groups.
The Council has organised a string of large rallies across the country, especially after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike in November.
During today's rally, Saeed also attacked the US and demanded that Pakistan should pull out of the war on terror.
He said the Council will oppose any move by Pakistan to reopen supply routes for foreign forces in Afghanistan that were closed after last year’s NATO attack.
"We have repeatedly told the government that they should get out of the war on terrorism and there can be no compromise on Pakistan’s independence and security. We are clearly saying that NATO's supplies will not be restored. For that, this Council will do everything that is necessary to block the supplies," he said.
Other leaders who addressed the rally held at a ground near the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah included Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hasan, Awami Muslim League chief Shiekh Rashid Ahmed, Maulana Samiul Haq, former Inter-Services Intelligence chief Hamid Gul, former Sipah-e-Sahaba chief Ahmed Ludhianvi and late Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s son Ejaz-ul-Haq.
Surprisingly, Ejaz Chaudhry, the senior vice-president of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party, too addressed the rally.
In recent weeks, Khan has sought to distance himself from the activities of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council though there have been widespread contacts between the two sides.