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What the anti-NATO protest signals for Pakistan

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Anjum Naveed/AP

(Read caption) Supporters of Defense Council of Pakistan, a coalition of hard line Islamist religious leaders and politicians, take part in an anti-NATO rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, July 9. Thousands of Islamists rallied in the Pakistan's capital to protest against the government's decision to allow the US and other NATO countries to resume shipping troop supplies through the country to Afghanistan.

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Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets for the past few days in a “long march” from Lahore to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, in response to the government's recent decision to reopen NATO access to critical supply routes for the war efforts in Afghanistan. More protests are planned in cities across Pakistan in  the coming days, including a rally heading up the Khyber Pass.

The NATO supply line was closed by Pakistani authorities in November, after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border attack by US soldiers further damaging already strained relations between the two allies. Since then, Pakistan's role in the US-led war in Afghanistan has hinged on the thorny issue of the supply lines and an apology. After a diplomatic stand off and a series of negotiations, the government resumed transit routes last week after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally issued an official apology for the deaths.

The recent protests organized by Difa-e-Pakistan Council or Defense of Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella coalition of right-wing parties, suggest however, that the issue is far from resolved for Pakistan's religious right. Although the protests may not significantly affect logistics of the resumed supply routes, they set the stage for the coming elections.

Analysts say that anti-establishment activism will further delegitimize the already weakened government, and the major opposition parties not currently participating in the rallies will try their best to exploit that.

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