PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan halted NATO supply shipments to Afghanistan on Saturday after thousands of protesters rallied on the main road to the border to demand Washington stop firing missiles against militants sheltering inside the country.
The stoppage was temporary and the demonstration was held by a small political party seeking a populist boost, but the events highlighted the vulnerability of the supply route running through Pakistan at a time of tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
Much of the nonlethal supplies for foreign troops in landlocked Afghanistan come through Pakistan after arriving at the port in the southern city of Karachi. Militants often attack the convoys, and in September Pakistan closed the border for 20 days to protest a NATO helicopter strike inside its borders.
NATO commanders said then that the halt did not affect the war effort. The alliance has been opening new routes into Afghanistan from the north in recent years to try to reduce its dependence on the Pakistani route, which gives Islamabad leverage when negotiating with the West.
Police Officer Khurshid Khan said supplies had been stopped until Monday morning because of the protest.
The demonstration was held by the political party of Imran Khan, a former captain of Pakistan's cricket team. He has called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban and has long opposed the drone strikes. Last year, there were more than 100 such attacks
"We will continue our campaign until America stops killing our innocent people," Khan told around 3,000 protesters on the outskirts of Peshawar, around 35 miles from the Afghan border. "The people have risen up. They will neither let the corrupt leaders nor their American bosses stay in this country."
Earlier Saturday, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said his force had broken "the backbone" of Islamist militants in the country.
But hours later, a suicide bomber on foot detonated his explosives in a convoy of soldiers and elders of an anti-Taliban militia in the town of Salarzai. Four militiamen and a paramilitary soldier were killed, said police official Fazal Rabbi.
The military in late 2009 had declared victory over insurgents in the area.