ISLAMABAD: A convoy of hundreds of vehicles carrying over 1,000 people who were participating in Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf’s (PTI) “peace march” to South Waziristan departed from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa town of Dera Ismail Khan towards Tank early on Sunday, DawnNews reported.
Following an overnight stay in D. I. Khan, the marchers left for the tribal region Sunday morning.
Earlier on Saturday, when the convoy reached D.I. Khan, which lies on the border of the province with the tribal region of South Waziristan, several hundred locals gathered to cheer on the cricketer-turned-politician.
The convoy, which departed from Rawalpindi and Islamabad under Khan’s leadership, stopped at Mianwali for under an hour, where the PTI chief held a small address.
“PTI is not scared of anyone. The government tried to make this march unsuccessful but we are determined to bring peace to the country,” Khan said while addressing the convoy in Mianwali.
Khan reiterated his party’s stance against drone attacks, saying that drones kill the innocent and that he stands with the people of Waziristan.
“The people of the tribal regions have been facing difficulties for the last eight years,” he said.
Terming the march a “trailer for change,” Khan vowed to bring peace to the country.
Crowds lined the road to greet Khan, and scrums of media and well-wishers thronged his 4X4 as the convoy of more than 100 vehicles embarked on the 440-kilometre drive from Islamabad to South Waziristan.
But as Saturday wore on, it appeared increasingly unlikely the protesters would be allowed to reach their destination, considered a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold, and often called the most dangerous place on earth.
The government says the Taliban plan to attack the rally, authorities told AFP it was not safe for Khan to enter the semi-autonomous tribal belt and television broadcast footage of shipping containers closing the road into South Waziristan.
“I condemn the hypocrisy of the government, who tried their best to make this march fail,” Khan told around 5,000 supporters at a brief halt.
“They are saying that Taliban have sent nine suicide attackers. If (President Asif Ali) Zardari sends even a 100 suicide attackers this march will not stop,” added Khan.
Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who defected from the main ruling party to PTI this year, insisted the march would not be a failure if the authorities stopped it from reaching Waziristan.
“The point is it’s symbolic,” he said.
“The government is saying we are against drones. The people are saying they are against drones. What are they afraid of? Why are they blocking us?”
Khan is accompanied by around 30 US campaigners from the group Code Pink and the British head of legal lobby organisation Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith.
Dawn.com’s Sajjad Haider adds: The convoy left Mianwali late evening for Dera Ismail Khan, which will be the destination for the overnight stay.
There has been an increase in the size of the convoy along the way, with people joining from towns between Talagang and Mianwali. A number of foreign journalists are also part of the convoy, as well as women, most of whom are PTI supporters and activists.
In D. I. Khan, there are arrangements for an event, where the PTI chief is expected to speak. The convoy will leave for Tank early Sunday.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, meanwhile, decided to provide security to the march until its stay in Tank.
Earlier in the day, the march had left Islamabad for the anti-drone march towards the northwestern tribal region.
Speaking to media representatives prior to departing for South Waziristan’s Kotkai town, Khan said the people of South Waziristan would provide security to the peace rally.
The PTI chief said he was leading the march for peace against US drone strikes and that his party’s rally should not be stopped from proceeding.
Moreover, at least 30 anti-drone campaigners from the United States were taking part in the march which began from Islamabad Saturday morning.
Khan said the government wanted to stop the peace rally but the people of South Waziristan were going to provide security to it.
He said the government’s policy on US drone attacks was dubious and that Interior Minister Rehman Malik was trying to scare people away from participating in the rally.
The interior minister, meanwhile, issued a rebuttal to Khan’s statement on social media website Twitter.
“I am in USA and I have neither imposed any restriction for PTI march nor I have any such intentions to do,” Malik said in a post from Washington, DC.
Khan said attempts were being made to sabotage the march, adding that, the rally was only aiming for peace and he had no intention of initiating a fight with any group.
The PTI chief said the Taliban had no intention of attacking the rally.
While speaking to the protest march 25 kilometers away from Dera Ismail Khan, the PTI chief said: "Military operations is not the solution. We have chosen the path of peace and we will have to take all the tribal people along with us."
"This is a peace march and its purpose is for peace. This march will transform the state of Pakistani people," he said.
"We are going to tell the tribal people we have not forgotten them. We will continue to raise our opposition to drone attacks," Khan said.