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Islamists Back Pakistan Army, Chide US

Published: 19/12/2011 01:33:51 PM GMT
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ISLAMABAD - Tens of thousands of Islamists marched Sunday, December 18, in the city of Lahore to show support for Pakistan's army against US pressures on the powerful institution. All Islamist organizations stand with the (more)

ISLAMABAD - Tens of thousands of Islamists marched Sunday, December 18, in the city of Lahore to show support for Pakistan's army against US pressures on the powerful institution.

"All Islamist organizations stand with the Pakistan army," said scholar Tahir Ashrafi, Reuters reported.

"We will stand together and defeat any conspiracies against Pakistan and the Pakistan army."

Nearly 30,000 Islamists staged a rally in Lahore in support of the Pakistani army against US pressures.

Speakers included Hafiz Saeed, a fiercely anti-American scholar suspected of links to the group blamed for the 2008 attack in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Also at the podium was Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, known as the father of the Afghan Taliban, who are fighting US-led NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has been under mounting pressures since a unilateral US attack that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.

Washington also accuses the Pakistani army of assisting the militant Haqqani network to launch attacks against US troops in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, Washington suspended about $800 million in military aid, or more than a third of the $2 billion given to Pakistan for security assistance.

The suspension follows Islamabad's decision to cut the number of US military trainers and limited the ability of US personnel to obtain visas.

Washington also invited more public anger in Pakistan over a November 26 cross-border NATO air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and plunged already troubled ties with Washington to a low point.

At the protest, Islamists from dozens of groups and parties waved flags and chanted "the defense of Pakistan is our holy duty."

It was the type of scene that would concern U.S. officials who have called for a harder line against Pakistan to force it to crack down on militancy.

Coup Rumors

The Islamists rally also comes to support the powerful army in the face of accusations of plotting a coup against the civilian government.

"Long live the Pakistan army," chanted the Islamists in the central city of Lahore.

A leaked memo by the former ambassador to the United States has accused the army of plotting a coup against the government of president Asif Ali Zardari.

Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on October 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for US help to stave off a military coup in the days after the bin Laden raid.

Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Husain Haqqani, the then Pakistani ambassador to Washington who denied involvement in the memo but resigned over the controversy.

No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has called for an investigation into the memo.

On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court is due to start hearings into a petition demanding an inquiry into who was behind it.

Tension between Pakistan's civilian government and military has bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling the country for more than half of its 64-year history after a series of coups.

Haqqani's resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence.

The military, which determines security and foreign policy, dismisses any suggestion that it might stage a coup but analysts say military intervention could not be ruled out in the event of chaos.Zardari is in Dubai, resting at his residence after medical treatment which raised speculation that he would resign. The prime minister has said Zardari's condition is improving and he will return to Pakistan.

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