PESHAWAR, Nov 24: Police either watched quietly or looked the other way as activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf which heads the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hauled drivers and forcibly searched Nato supply trucks in different areas of the province on Sunday in protest against US drone strikes.
The protesters held sit-ins and set up checkpoints in Peshawar, Kohat, Charsadda and Swabi, Nowshera and Dera Ismail Khan and checked customs documents listing the goods being transported to Afghanistan.
At the Hayatabad camp in Peshawar, some PTI workers reportedly roughed up a driver who had taken some time to show documents and said that he was taking goods to private parties in Afghanistan and not for Nato forces. In another incident, they broke the seal of a container which enraged the owner of the vehicle and his men because the seal was a requirement for customs clearance and a formality which must be fulfilled for crossing the Pakistan-Afghan border at Torkham.
PTI chief Imran Khan, who had held a two-day sit-in against US drone attacks and to stop Nato supplies on April 23, 2010, took the same course this time to demonstrate his party’s anger, especially after the recent drone strike in Hangu, a settled district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The sit-ins will continue till the US halts drone attacks in Pakistan,” PTI’s Peshawar general secretary Younus Zaheer Mohmand told Dawn. He blamed scuffles on the truckers’ reluctance to show documents.
“We have clearly instructed our workers not to cause inconvenience to the transporters who were not supplying goods to Nato forces in Afghanistan. All commercial trucks can cross the border without any hindrance,” he said.
MNA Hamidul Haq and MPAs Fazal Ilahi, Zareen Zia, Mahmood Jan and others visited the camps.
PTI’s spokesman Ishtiaq Urmer alleged that some miscreants wanted to sabotage the party’s peaceful protest and asked the workers to keep a strict watch on people creating problems for trucks which were supplying commercial goods to Afghanistan. “The main objective of the sit-in is to record protest against drone strikes.” The PTI workers holding flags and banners also marched on Hayatabad toll plaza.
Workers of Jamaat-i-Islami and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad, the parties in the provincial coalition, will join the protest on Monday.
Nato supplies remain suspended on weekends because of closure of customs and other offices responsible for the documentation work.
According to officials, 30 trucks carrying Nato goods cross into Afghanistan while 70 enter Pakistan via Torkham border every day.
PTI’s media coordinator Umar Younus said the party workers would stay in the camps on shifts. “We will not allow Nato supplies via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”
The party high command, he said, had asked the workers not to create problems for the general public and commercial transporters, adding that the PTI did not want confrontation with the US or any other country; it only wanted to send a message to the world that Pakistan was a sovereign country and its territorial rights must be respected.
Agencies add: About 100 protesters on the outskirts of Peshawar checked the documents of truck drivers as they passed through a toll booth. They shouted at the drivers and pulled one Gul Zaman out of his truck when he told them that he was carrying commercial goods to Afghanistan, not Nato supplies.
“Without waiting for me to take my documents out of the glove compartment, they dragged me out,” Zaman said. “We are also concerned about drone attacks, but they shouldn’t come down heavy on us like this.”
Police were present at the scene but did not intervene to stop the protesters, some of whom were carrying wooden batons.
The demonstration had more symbolic value than practical impact because there is normally very little Nato supply traffic on the weekend.
An AFP reporter quoted Mohammad Faisal, a senior police official, as saying that the actions of the PTI activists were illegal but he was powerless to act. “The protesters are doing unlawful acts by checking documents and screening goods; they don’t have authority,” he said. “But we can’t take action against them because we have no instructions from the government. If the government orders us, we will stop this illegal activity.”
Asghar Khalil, a PTI activist, said they were heeding their leadership’s call to action and would not stop until Washington promised to end drone strikes.
Imran Khan has long opposed the US campaign of drone attacks targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He has intensified his rhetoric since a US drone strike killed TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud on November 1. The PTI chief says the attack was a deliberate attempt by Washington to sabotage efforts for peace talks with the militants.
“They (PTI workers) are doing unlawful acts. They broke the seal of my container and forcibly examined the goods,” Faiz Muhammad Khan, a truck driver transporting sanitary items to Afghanistan, said. “If they want to block supplies for Nato forces, they should stop it in Karachi or at the border.”
Nato supplies were suspended on Saturday because of a major PTI rally which was held on the route used by the trucks.