Islamabad: More than 30,000 Islamists rallied against the US in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday, demanding Islamabad cut off ties with Washington following NATO airstrikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The protest highlighted the ability of hard-liners to bring their supporters into the streets, as well as the lasting anger over the November 26 attack, which has complicated US efforts to enlist Pakistan's cooperation on the Afghan war.
The US has expressed its condolences for the NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two army posts along the Afghan border and has promised to carry out a full investigation. The response has done little to calm anger in Pakistan's military, which has claimed the attack was deliberate.
Pakistan\'s alleged tolerance for Islamist militant groups has been one of the main sources of tension with the US.
"All agreements (with the US) should be terminated," Hafiz Saeed, the head of the group that organized the protest, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, told the crowd. "We say all agreements terminated the day the attack happened."
Jamaat-ud-Dawa is widely considered to be the front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant organization that was started with help from the Pakistani government to fight archenemy India, but has been officially banned under international pressure.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. India has demanded Pakistan crack down on the group, but Islamabad has shown little willingness to go after Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
Protesters at Sunday's rally shouted, "A friend of the USA and India is a traitor."
Pakistan's alleged tolerance for Islamist militant groups has been one of the main sources of tension with the US Washington has been especially frustrated with Islamabad's refusal to target the Afghan Taliban and their allies and has even accused the country's intelligence agency of supporting the groups.
Pakistan has also been shaken by speculation over the future of President Asif Ali Zardari, who flew to Dubai on December 6 to receive medical attention. Officials have not disclosed exactly what is wrong with the president, but one associate has said privately that Zardari suffered a "mini stroke" that has left no lasting damage.
The president's trip sparked speculation that he was fleeing the country under pressure from the army over his alleged connection to a secret memo sent to Washington in May, seeking its help in averting a supposed military coup following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar has denied the rumors and has said that Zardari had nothing to do with the memo, which was allegedly masterminded by Pakistan's former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani. The ex-envoy has denied the allegation but resigned in the wake of the scandal.
Babar said Sunday that Zardari would return to Pakistan "soon," but would not provide further details.