Islamabad: Six soldiers and a policeman were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked an army camp early Monday near the town of Gujrat, around 150km southeast of the Pakistani capital, the military said.

Five security personnel were also injured and moved to a military hospital, said a statement issued by the military’s inter-services public relations department.

The camp was established recently on the bank of river Chenab near Gujrat to find the body of the pilot of an army helicopter that crashed in the river in May.

Rahman Malek, supervising the interior ministry as senior adviser to the prime minister, said the cowardly attack will not weaken “our resolve to fight terrorism”.

Media reports said the assailants managed to escape on motorcycles after launching the attack from bridge over the river.

The attack took place hours after a vehicular procession of supporters of a religious parties’ grouping called Defence of Pakistan Council, which is protesting against resumption of Nato supplies to Afghanistan through Pakistan, had left Gujrat after an overnight stop there en route to Islamabad from Lahore, capital of Punjab province.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which security sources linked to local Taliban insurgents in the northwest along the Afghan border and underground extremist groups in other parts of the country allied to them.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities deployed paramilitary forces in Islamabad and shopkeepers shut early as thousands of supporters of an Islamist group converged on the capital to protest the decision to reopen Nato supply routes.

The rally by about 8,000 members of the Difah-e-Pakistan Council, or Defence of Pakistan Council, a movement of parties with links to the Taliban and other extremist groups, began yesterday in the eastern city of Lahore. Protesters plan to demonstrate in front of parliament later today after completing the 300-kilometre journey, according to the Associated Press.

“The opening of Nato supply routes is a violation of parliament resolutions,” Maulana Sami-ul Haq, a senior leader of the council, said in a speech in Lahore yesterday that was broadcast by television channels. “This long march will free our nation from rulers who are just serving US interests.”

Trucks carrying supplies for US-led forces fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan began crossing the border from Pakistan last week after a seven-month blockade. The routes were reopened after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologised for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a November border strike by American helicopters.

Relations between the US and Pakistan have been battered by a series of disputes as the Obama administration plans its exit from the 11-year war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s parliament called for a halt to missile attacks by US unmanned drone aircraft as it debated future ties with the government in Washington. The US has demanded Pakistan stop guerrillas based on its soil from attacking international coalition troops across the frontier.

$100 Million a Month

Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in Islamabad to provide security, state-run Associated Press of Pakistan cited Rehman Malik, a senior adviser to the Interior Ministry, as saying. Barbed-wire barriers were installed on main roads leading to the parliament.

Other council leaders include Hafiz Saeed, founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group which India blames for plotting the 2008 raid on Mumbai, Hamid Gul, a retired Pakistani intelligence chief with a long history of supporting militants, and Syed Munawar Hasan, leader of Pakistan’s most powerful Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The closing of the Pakistani supply routes forced the US and Nato to send material and equipment into Afghanistan from the north, through Central Asia, at an added cost that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has estimated at about $100 million (Dh367 million) a month.


- with inputs from Bloomberg