Pak army blocks Imran’s ‘peace march’

Islamabad: A peace march against US drone strikes led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was stopped on Sunday by the army on the edge of Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt due to fears of a possible militant attacks on the rallyists, which also included American anti-war activists.

A motorcade of scores of vehicles was turned back by the army just a few kilometres from the boundary of South Waziristan Agency, forcing the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief to cancel his plans to address a gathering at Kotkai village in the tribal region.

Khan led his supporters back to Tank, a town in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and addressed a gathering of a few thousand people.

The drone strikes are a violation of human rights and international laws and create hatred against the US, he said.
“We strongly condemn the US drone strikes as they are a complete violation of human rights,” he added.

He contended that the march had succeeded in creating international awareness about the Pakistani people’s opposition to US drone strikes.

He also claimed the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf would make a “clean sweep” in the upcoming general election.

“We came all the way to Waziristan. Soon, I will call on you to come to Islamabad,” he said, referring to his party’s claim that it would come to power in the polls.

In a message posted on Twitter, Khan said he was told “by the army that (there was) serious danger ahead” on the path to the tribal belt. “Did not want to risk lives and turned back,” he said.

Other leaders of the Tehrik-e-Insaf tweeted the army had advised them to turn back as there was a “real danger of (an) ambush”.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said authorities had only put in places measures to provide security to the march and had made no effort to stop it.

A small contingent of US anti-war activists from the women’s group Code Pink joined the march.

They claimed the drone strikes, contrary to the claims of the US administration, have killed many civilians and not just Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements.

The American activists apologised for their government’s actions and led the people in shouting slogans like “Bandh karo drone hamle bandh karo”.

After an overnight halt at Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, Khan’s motorcade set off for the tribal region.

At the same time, officials of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government made it clear that the march would not be allowed to proceed beyond Tank.

Talking to his supporters this morning, Khan said: “We have succeeded in our mission. The whole world has heard your voice and the international media has condemned drone attacks.”

The Pakistan government publicly criticises the attacks by CIA-operated spy planes as counterproductive and a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

However, analysts believe there is a tacit understanding between the US and Pakistan on the drone campaign. Dozens of Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders have been killed in drone strikes over the past four years though peace activists claim the attacks cause considerable collateral damage.

Accurate figures on casualties in the drone strikes are hard to come by as reporters and rights groups are barred from operating in the tribal belt.

Khan has said the time had come to find a new way to win the battle against militancy. The march was held to express solidarity with the tribal people who have suffered because of the war on terror, which he claimed was not “Pakistan’s war”.

He said the government should end military operations and open a dialogue to end militancy.

Authorities beefed up security in all towns and villages along the route of the march after reports said the rally could be targeted by suicide bombers.

The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan said it had not made any offer to provide security to the march.