Protesters, including women and children, gathered in Karachi and Islamabad on Sunday for an anti-America rally in the wake of the killing of Iran's Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
In Karachi, the rally began at about 3pm at the Fawwara Chowk and reached the Native Jetty Bridge where it concluded peacefully late evening. The protesters carried portraits of Soleimani along with posters inscribed with "Down With USA!"
Among the groups that protested were Imamia Students Organisation (ISO), Jaafria Alliance, Majlisi-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Tanzeem Azadari, and Shia Ulema Council.
The protesters had aimed to march to the US consulate. Police sources had said they may protest at Tower but they won’t be allowed to move toward US consulate on Mai Kolachi Road.
Addressing the protesters, Allama Shahenshah Hussain of the Shia Ulema Council, has said that a small group would go forward to the consulate premises and present a memorandum.
Hussain, in his address, appreciated the statement by Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor who had assured the nation that Pakistan's land will not be used for action against any neighbouring country.
MWM chief Allama Hasan Zafar Naqvi also addressed the rally. "Every Pakistani, down to the last child, is Qasem Soleimani," he declared.
"We will not allow the US to succeed in perpetrating their crimes on Pakistani soil," he said.
Paying homage to Soleimani, he said that the slain general had united Iraq's Shia and Sunni populations against the US.
He said the existence of America and Israel pose a danger to humanity. "Soleimani was the commander of the army of Islam."
He also paid tribute to the Pakistan media for highlighting Soleimani's role.
Addressing a joint press conference on Saturday, parties of the Millat-e-Jafria Pakistan had announced an anti-American rally on Sunday to protest the killing of Iran's Major General Qasem Soleimani and Hashed al-Shaabi deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a US drone attack. They had condemned America's "terrorist attacks" in Iraq.
A significant rally was also organised in Islamabad by the MWM and ISO to protest the US strike which led to the killing of Soleimani.
It began at the Islamabad Press Club and culminated at the D-Chowk.
Women and children also took part in big numbers in the rally which was led by Allama Syed Ali Rizvi. Among promiment figures participating was the Deputy Mayor of the city, Zeeshan Naqvi.
Protesters chanted "Death to America" and "America is a terrorist".
"An attack on Gen Qasem Soleimani is an attack on the Islamic world," said one participant.
Some equated the move to "international terrorism". They said that America "wishes to divide the Muslim Ummah and enslave the whole world".
The protesters called for unity among all Muslims as they marched.
Addressing the rally, Rizvi said that Soleimani had been "martyred by those who profit from Daesh and Al Qaeda".
He said the US was a "cheating and untrustworthy" country. "The Islamic world's security and dignity is in keeping its distance from them."
"History bears witness that the US has left no stone unturned when it comes to harming the Muslim Ummah," said Rizvi.
He said that the government will have to assure the people that Pakistan's soil will not be used against neighbouring Muslim countries like in the past. "The whole nation wishes to see itself freed from external pressure."
The religious leader said that Pakistan will have to play its role in maintaining the security and dignity of the Muslim Ummah.
On Friday, the US Embassy in Islamabad had issued a countrywide security alert.
According to the alert, the embassy said: "Given possible reactions to recent events in Iraq, the US Embassy has restricted travel by US government employees. US government personnel in Pakistan are required to postpone non-essential official movements and most personal movements. US citizens in Pakistan should monitor their surroundings for possible demonstrations and suspicious activity."
They said actions to take include avoiding crowds, keeping a low profile, being aware of surroundings, reviewing personal security plans and exercising caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests.
The additional secretary of the Sindh Home Department on Saturday also wrote a letter for the enhancement of the security of American and Iranian establishments/installations addressed to the Sindh inspector general of police, Pakistan Rangers Sindh Headquarters and all commissioners in Sindh.
"I am directed to refer to the Ministry of Interior letter [...] on the subject noted above and to request for enhanced security arrangements for the Iranian and US Nationals and establishments in the current security scenario in order to avoid any untoward incident," the letter read.
Ahead of the rally in Karachi, according to a press release issued by the spokesperson of the Karachi Traffic Police, MT Khan Road, Mai Kolachi Road, Aiwan-e-Saddar Road and Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road (from Khajoor Chowk to Dr Ziauddin Ahmed traffic signal) will be completely closed for traffic.
The police shared alternative traffic routes:
- Those who want to go from Jinnah Bridge to MT Khan Road should use Tower- II Chundrigar Road
- Those who want to go from Mai Kolachi to MT Khan Road should travel from Boat Basin via KPT Underpass, Teen Talwar route
- Those who want to go from Shaheen Complex via Clifton, Lily Bridge, PIDC should use right side of the Ziauddin traffic signal — Hoshing Chowk, Abdullah Haroon Road, Fawara Chowk, MR Kiani Road
- Those who want to go from Aiwan-e-Saddar towards Shaheen Complex from Metropole, Fawara Chowk should travel on left side of Fawara Chowk — MR Kiani Road to Shaheen Complex
- Those who want to go from Shahrah-e-Faisal, Metropole towards PIDC should travel on right side of Fawara Chowk via MR Kiani Road or left side of Abdullah Haroon Road, Hoshing Chowk
- Those who want to go from II Chundrigar to PIDC or Aiwan-e-Saddar should use Fawara Chowk, Avari traffic signal
Pakistan expresses concern over escalating tensions
Maj Gen Soleimani was killed on Friday morning in a US strike on Baghdad's international airport, in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the two countries.
Following this, the Foreign Office via a statement had expressed "deep concern" over the tensions, urging all sides to exercise restraint.
"Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region," said the FO in a statement.
"Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity are the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, which should be adhered to," the statement said, adding that it is "important to avoid unilateral actions and use of force".
The statement had urged all parties involved to "exercise maximum restraint, engage constructively to de-escalate the situation, and resolve issues through diplomatic means, in accordance with UN Charter and international law".
Chief of Army Staff General (COAS) Qamar Javed Bajwa in a call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had emphasised the "need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement" following the killing of Soleimani.