PESHAWAR: Thousands of demonstrators staged a protest against US drone strikes blocking a main road in Peshawar on Saturday and threatened to continue their demonstration until the attacks ended, whereas the provincial secretary information of the PTI announced the party would block Nato supply routes.
The protest was led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) along with their allies in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government.
The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad (AJIP) also confirmed their participation.
''We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,'' Khan told the protesters.
Provincial secretary information of PTI Ishtiaq Ormar announced that Nato supply containers to and from Afghanistan via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be stopped at the border points.
In a statement issued here Saturday, he said, “We by this step wanted to tell the world that we could do what we said and we could do anything for our people.”
Ormar said that PTI’s teams would stop Nato supply from entering into the borders of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at any point including Khairabad, Charsadda, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Hangu, while this blockade of Nato supply would continue till US stopped drone attacks and formally sought apology on human killings in Pakistan.
He said that American drone attacks were brutally extended to the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and if this was not noticed and properly reacted then such attacks could also be made at any other part of the country as well.
Earlier during the day, Khan called for a complete blockade of Nato convoys to Afghanistan to put pressure on the US to abandon its drone programme. “We will not allow Nato supplies to pass from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in any case will stop drone strikes,” Khan told the gathering.
“We are here to give a clear message that now Pakistanis cannot remain silent over drone attacks,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a senior member of the PTI, said in a speech to the protesters.
Party workers of the PTI and JI had arrived at Ring Road in the provincial capital from across the country. According to some estimates, around 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s protest. The protesters shouted anti-US slogans, such as “Down with America” and “Stop drone attacks.”
Strict security arrangements were put in place by the provincial government, including deployment of over 500 polce personnel to ensure safety and order. Transporters were directed to use alternative routes.
“I am participating in today’s sit-in to convey a message to America that we hate them since they are killing our people in drone attacks,” said Hussain Shah, a 21-year-old university student. “America must stop drone attacks for peace in our country.”
The US Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment on the protest.
The protest comes only two days after a rare US drone strike outside of Pakistan’s remote tribal region killed six people, including senior commanders of the Haqqani network, at a seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district.
The attack outraged Pakistani officials, as did one on Nov 1 that killed the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, a day before the Pakistani government said it was going to invite him to hold peace talks.
Khan earlier set a November 20 deadline for the halting of drone strikes and threatened to block Nato convoys in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
But on Saturday he said he will take the issue to the country's top court and, if necessary, to the international court of justice.
Nato supplies were suspended Saturday because of the rally, which was held on same route used by Nato trucks.
Ring Road leads to Torkham, one of two border crossings used to ship supplies from Pakistan to Afghanistan, and is a key transit route to transport supplies to Nato troops in the war-torn country.
Tahir Khan, a government official at Torkham, says there is normally little Nato supply traffic on the route on Saturdays. Most trucks arrive at the border by Friday evening to clear customs.
‘Protests to continue until drone strikes stop’
PTI chief Imran Khan has been a vocal critic of US drone strikes, saying they violate Pakistan's sovereignty.
Speaking to reporters earlier in Islamabad before heading to Peshawar for the demonstration, Khan said that the federal government was doing nothing on its part to stop drone attacks and the protest against the strikes would continue indefinitely.
Khan said that apart from issuing condemnation statements, nothing concrete had been done to put an effective stop to drone attacks.
He said that he had been protesting against drone attacks for the past nine years, but the government had yet to do anything about it.
Khan said Nato supplies would not be allowed to pass via KP, adding that the PTI-led government in the province possessed the mandate to block Nato supplies.
He moreover said PTI had promised to eradicate corruption from the country and it would fulfill its promise.