Islamabad: The Pakistani authorities blocked a convoy carrying thousands of activists of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and a group of code pink US anti-war activists from entering into a tribal region of Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan on Sunday to protest American drone strikes.
The group, led by cricket star turned politician Imran Khan and his political party, was turned back just miles from the border of South Waziristan. After an hour of fruitless negotiations, Khan announced that the caravan would backtrack to the city of Tank, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) away. There, he delivered a speech to the crowd of about 20,000.
Khan, who blames the government for allowing the U.S. to operate in the country, had planned to lead the protest from the capital into South Waziristan, a tribal area frequently hit by the drone strikes.
“The drones are inhumane,” Khan said, donning a white turban as he stood on a vehicle in the town of Tank, surrounded by thousands of protesters.
“Are these people not humans? These humans have names. Drone attacks are a violation of human rights,” he said.
Khan has harshly criticized the Pakistani government’s cooperation with Washington in the fight against Islamist militants. He has been especially outspoken against US drone strikes targeting militants and has argued that Islamabad’s alliance with Washington is the main reason Pakistan is facing a homegrown Taliban insurgency. He has suggested before that militant activity in Pakistan’s tribal areas will dissipate when the US ends the war across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s military and the civilian government publicly complain that the strikes – aimed at remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban – infringe the country’s sovereignty and cause civilian casualties. Yet the government has taken little concrete action against the strikes.
Khan feels that military operations in the tribal belt are the main reason indigenous militant groups have taken on the state. Khan also holds the US-led war in Afghanistan is responsible for the spread of terror in the region. The question is if Khan can persuade the indigenous militant groups within Pakistan to lay down arms if he comes to power, just by bringing them to the table and offering an olive branch.
A recent report by Reprieve, Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law estimates that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed in the drone war. Total casualties from June 2004 to September 2012 range from 2,562 to 3,325.
The Pakistani Taliban have condemned the march as political stunt, and rejected Khan as a “secular and liberal person.”
Dozens of Western peace activists, including 32 Americans, participated in a convoy in Pakistan over the weekend to protest deadly American drone strikes in the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The activists, most of them from the group Code pink, object to the civilian deaths that occur in the aerial strikes against Taliban fighters and other militants. (Rendezvous recently explored the controversy over drone warfare in a piece, “Are Drone Strikes Worth the Costs?
“We kill a lot of innocent people,” said Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Codepink and part of the delegation in Pakistan. She called the attacks “barbaric assassinations.”
Speaking of the tribal areas, she said, “This is a culture that very much believes in revenge, and then they seek revenge by trying to kill Americans. So we are just perpetuating a cycle of violence and it’s got to stop somewhere, and that’s why we are putting our bodies on the line by trying to go to Waziristan to say no.”
Ms. Benjamin said her group also was participating in the march to “put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are.”
Taliban spokes man Ihsan Ullah Ihsan said in a statement released to the media. “it’s an attempt by him to increase in political stature” ,”Imran Khan’s so-called peace march is not in sympathy of drone-hit Muslims, instead it is a try by him to increase his political stature,”.