More than 10,000 Pakistanis protested Thursday against allowing US forces to ship supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan in a sign of growing pressure on Islamabad to harden its foreign policy.
It was one of the largest rallies against the government since it took office in March. Militants have attacked trucks using the critical Khyber Pass route several times in recent weeks. The protesters backers of Jamaat-e-Islami, a hard-line Islamist party also decried U.S. missile strikes targeting al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border and Pakistani military offensives against Islamic insurgents in the area.
Banner-toting demonstrators chanted "Down with America" and "Jihad is the only solution of America" as they marched along a key road in the main northwestern city of Peshawar, led by national party chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed.
"If America continues atrocities against Muslims, it will also not be able to live in peace," Express television quoted Amhed as saying.
Sirajul Haq, Jamaat-e-Islami's provincial chief, threatened to cut off the convoys.
"We will no longer let arms and ammunition pass through ... and reach the hands of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan," he told the crowd. "They are using the same against our innocent brothers, sisters and children."
The protest comes at a time that the government is dealing with fallout from the Mumbai terror attacks that killed more than 160 people. India on Thursday ordered cricket officials to cancel next month's scheduled tour of Pakistan.
Reflecting concern for Pakistan's economic and political stability, the country's main stock market index fell to its lowest level in more than three years.
India says the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group was behind November's attacks. Pakistan has arrested some suspects and clamped down on a charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, allegedly linked to the outlawed group, but it insists it needs evidence from India. Pakistan also summoned an Indian envoy Thursday to formally complain about alleged violations of its airspace Saturday as it sought to deflect heat from the Mumbai attacks onto its longtime rival.
Pakistani leaders had previously downplayed the alleged airspace breaches by Indian aircraft, calling them "technical." India has denied any airspace violations took place.