TANK, Oct 7: A motorcade led by PTI chief Imran Khan was stopped by the authorities from entering South Waziristan on Sunday and the participants, who had earlier in the day bypassed or removed all roadblocks, turned back and gathered in Tank.
Addressing the gathering, Mr Khan threatened to launch a march on Islamabad if US drone attacks on the tribal areas did not stop.
“I am not scared for my life and can go on to Kotkai (in South Waziristan, the planned destination of the march), but I care for the security of the people and party workers,” he told the cheering crowd.
“We would even go to America to get the drone attacks stopped,” he said as slogans were raised against the government, the US and the drone attacks.
“If the drone strikes do not stop, I will give a call for a march on Islamabad,” he said.
Mr Khan said the government should announce the names of the people killed in the attacks. “President Asif Zardari should tell the truth to the people about the drone victims and should not consider America as god,” he said.
The administration stopped the ‘march’ when it had reached Manzai in the Tank Frontier Region after an overnight stay in Dera Ismail Khan.
“The PTI organised the march for peace and not to challenge the administration,” Mr Khan said as emotionally charged workers insisted on proceeding to Kotkai but were persuaded against risking a clash with security personnel.
Thousands of PTI workers from across the country, tribesmen and peace and human rights activists from US and European countries took part in the march. Mr Khan was accompanied by senior PTI leaders Makhdoom Javaid Hashmi, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Khurshid Kasuri.
The marchers carrying party flags and banners removed all roadblocks, including containers and barbed wires, while proceeding from Dera Ismail Khan but had to end the march and return to Tank.
Personnel of law-enforcement agencies had been deployed along the road to block the entry of the PTI workers into South Waziristan.
According to sources, backdoor negotiations between the administration and PTI leaders were held at Manzai for ending the march before evening.
Despite a warning from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, dozens of foreigners, including rights activists, attended the rally in Tank.
The government had announced that foreigners would not be allowed to enter the area.
Imran Khan said the drone strikes were against Islam, the sovereignty and Constitution of the country and the international humanitarian law because the US missiles were killing innocent people.
“I have been greatly encouraged by people’s spirit. Today, the PTI and its workers have written a new history. No other party can dare to think of organising a march to South Waziristan.”
He criticised Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who counts Tank as one of his strongholds. He said the JUI-F chief had spread false propaganda that the march had been organised by agents of Jews. “The Maulana says that I am an agent of the Jews, but I say that in the presence of Maulana Fazl, President Zardari and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif there is no need for the Jews to post their agents in the country,” he said as his supporters chanted slogans against the Maulana.
Agencies add: “We want to give a message to the US that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you,” Mr Khan said.
He said he wanted to continue the march to Kotkai but the army said it was too late and going inside South Waziristan at night was dangerous.
“We have taken the voice of the people of Waziristan to the world,” he said.
“The drones are inhumane,” said Mr Khan, donning a turban as he stood on a vehicle, surrounded by thousands of protesters.
“Are these people not humans? These humans have names. Drone attacks are a violation of human rights,” he said.
A PTI spokesman blamed police’s delaying tactics for the failure to reach Waziristan but insisted the march had achieved its aims.
“Police delayed us for four hours so it was getting late and dark,” Shafqat Mehmood told AFP.
“The army told us not to go into Waziristan because lives could be in danger.”
Earlier in the day, Imran Khan urged his supporters to remain peaceful and avoid confrontation with the authorities. “We are already successful in our mission,” he told the crowd. “Your voice has reached the world over.”
Medea Benjamin, leader of a delegation from US peace group Code Pink, apologised for the drone attacks, saying: “We are so grateful that you understand there are Americans in solidarity with you and against our government policy.”
Clive Stafford Smith, the British head of the legal lobby group Reprieve, told reporters: “It doesn’t matter what happens from here on. We’ve generated a huge amount of publicity not just in Pakistan but across the world.”
The protest convoy of about 150 cars set out on Saturday from Islamabad, travelled 400km and stopped overnight in Dera Ismail Khan. The plan for the second and final day was to travel another 120km to reach Kotkai in South Waziristan. But military personnel stopped the convoy in the town of Kawar.
Thousands of supporters had turned out along the route to cheer on the convoy which stretched about 15km, including accompanying media representatives.