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American citizens invite people to join anti-drone rally to Pakistani tribal area. – Photo by AP
American citizens invite people to join anti-drone rally to Pakistani tribal area. – Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: A group of American anti-war activists are in Pakistan to join a march into the country’s tribal belt to protest US drone strikes in the northwestern region.

Their presence has energised organisers behind the protest but also added to concerns that militants will target the weekend event.

The two-day march – in reality a long convoy – is to be led by Imran Khan, the former cricket star-turned-politician who has become a top critic of the American drone strikes in Pakistan.

It is to start Saturday in Islamabad and end in a town in South Waziristan, a tribal region that has been a major focus of drone strikes as well as the scene of a Pakistani army offensive against militants.

Khan, like many Pakistanis, alleges that the drone strikes have killed large numbers of innocent civilians and terrorised the tribes living along the Afghan border. The US rarely discusses the top-secret program, but American officials have said the majority of those killed are Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaida militants and that the missiles used in the strikes are very precise.

The American activists – around three dozen representatives of the US-based activist group CODEPINK – along with Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the London-based legal advocacy organisation Reprieve, want to march with Khan and publicise the plight of communities affected by the US drones.

Ahead of the march, local media carried reports Friday of alleged suicide bombings planned against the demonstration and a pamphlet distributed in a town along the march route warned participants they would face danger. The main Pakistani Taliban faction issued a statement criticising the event.

The foreign activists, meanwhile, met with relatives of people said to have been killed in drone attacks. The group also marched in the capital’s Jinnah Supermarket, chanting “Stop, stop drone attacks!” and singing “We are marching to Waziristan.”

One placard said: “Drones fly, Children die.”

Sherabaz Khan, 45, said he lost two brothers in a March 17, 2011, drone strike in Datta Khel, a town in North Waziristan.

“My brothers were attending a tribal council to settle a business dispute in a timber deal, and they were killed,“ he said. “None of the people killed were militants.”

Many of the foreigners expressed sympathy. “We have learned here from victims’ families how innocent people, children and women are being killed. Enough is enough. We should stop these attacks,” said Linda Wenning of Portland, Oregon.

Access to Pakistan’s tribal regions is heavily restricted, and foreigners for the most part are forbidden from entering; it was unclear whether the Westerners wishing to participate in the anti-drone march would get permission to enter. South Waziristan has theoretically been under the army’s control since its late 2009 operation there, but militants still roam the area.

Ahsanullah Ahsan, the spokesman for the main Pakistani Taliban faction, issued a statement Friday calling Khan, the ex-cricket star, a “slave of the West” and saying that the militants “don’t need any sympathy” from such “a secular and liberal person.”

Ahsan refused to reveal anything about the militants’ plans regarding the march, but added: “Imran Khan’s so-called Peace March is not in sympathy for drone-hit Muslims. Instead, it’s an attempt by him to increase his political stature.”

The local newspapers carried short items referring to an Interior Ministry warning that several suicide bombers planned to attack the march. Separately, pamphlets signed by a group calling itself the Army of the Caliphate were distributed in Tank, a town just outside South Waziristan. The fliers criticized Khan as an “agent of America, Israel and Jews.”

“People are sincerely and emphatically advised to stay away from the public meeting, and anyone suffering any loss of life will himself be responsible in this world and in the world afterward,” the documents warned.

Officials with Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said late Friday there were no plans to stop the march or change its ultimate destination, despite the warnings from militants groups. The demonstrators intend to reach Kotkai, a town in South Waziristan, and stage a rally there that they hope will attract tens of thousands of people.

On Thursday, Khan told a press conference that South Waziristan tribal leaders had assured him that he and his entourage would be protected there. Still, he did allude to the possibility that entering the tribal area might not be possible, saying that the marchers would go as far as they could, and stage their rally wherever they decided to stop.

Comments (24) Closed

Azmat Oct 06, 2012 02:06am
Hope is better than despair but it is in short supply in Pakistan. One thing that many agree in Pakistan today is that Imran gives us hope which is more than what any other politician is able to offer.
ahmad butt Oct 06, 2012 05:46am
Wow this is a bold step, the elected government and army has not been able to voice anything to save innocent deaths.
Ahmed Oct 06, 2012 01:21pm
Please dont ask such questions. If Pakistani "elite" like Imran Khan dont care for the fact that 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed by suicide bombers, and if they dont care for the fact that the only reason the drones are being used is because the alternative is to allow suicide bombers to continue to have a base in Pakistan - then it is proof that you can reason with the Pakistani "elite" anymore.
ASIF JAVAID Oct 06, 2012 01:34pm
God bless you imran.You are the only hope. we all are with you.
BEA Oct 06, 2012 01:40pm
Keep the American out when ever they get involved in situations things always go wrong, saying that good luck to Imran and his gang.
A.Rehman Oct 05, 2012 10:50pm
Respected Mr,Hassan Nissar ! Sir I want to write some thing about you & Imran Khan. I have seen & listen you, really you & Imran Khan are title on my face book like great Leaders of the time. only hope of Pakistan. You have writing power & Imran khan can lead. so please do some great REVOLUTIONARY steps for change in Pakistan. for rule of Law, youth is ready for this cause. A.Rehman Rehman Toor
Ali Oct 07, 2012 03:19am
If pakistani's are so much against drones attacks, then why not all the pakistani's enter the parliament like dorne and attack those politicians who favour american drones.
trrao Oct 07, 2012 03:13pm
Americans demonstrating against drones-Why don't Pakistanis march in America and Pakistan against Taliban atrocities, I wonder.
adam memon Oct 07, 2012 02:54pm
God bless all who are against drone attack.
Ghalib Khan Oct 07, 2012 04:38am
Dear Mr. Agha Ata (USA) this is not Algebra, Two wrongs does not make it Right
Truth Hurts Oct 07, 2012 08:19am
more innocents as well.... Punish the criminals on the well defined and practised way (Capture, trial, verdict, if guilty punish if not, bye bye) Peace to all...
Yawar Oct 06, 2012 02:33pm
A very brave move indeed on part of PTI and peace activists. It is understandable why the TTP does not support the march. But if they are really concerned about the future of Waziristan and FATA, then they should not try to disrupt the march. Let the world know about the true nature of these Drone attacks. May Allah protect the participants.
Amit-Atlanta-USA Oct 06, 2012 03:10pm
How about these Americans settling down in Waziristhan, live amongst the fighters (& terrorists) and try to change (if they can!) their outlook to one of hate to peace & tolerance?
EmMoosa Oct 06, 2012 03:55pm
Bravo Imran khan. Here is someone who is not sitting in his palace, cave or den and has come out for a cause. He is the one who is leading from the front like a captain. Best wishes for him and his team taking part in this journey of peace. Hurrah Imran.
EmMoosa Oct 06, 2012 03:59pm
Also the innocents.
me Oct 07, 2012 04:37pm
they do on their level. if you ask any american muslim
Rakesh Oct 06, 2012 04:45pm
I pray for the safety of the marchers, specially the western women. Western women are demonized in our societies and segregation breeds frustration.
Khan Oct 06, 2012 04:55pm
Wish Imran and Paskistan the best. At least one leader in Pakistan is thinking and doing the best for the country rather than himself. All Pakistanis should salute and thank him.
Raghu Oct 05, 2012 05:05pm
Thank you Imran, and thank you peaceful foreign activists for embarking on this mission. Although this march is full of risks, I applaud your efforts to go ahead with it. May allah keep you all safe. Ameen.
Agha Ata (USA) Oct 05, 2012 05:23pm
Drones kill innocent people, and suicide bombers kill who...?
AK Oct 05, 2012 08:10pm
Thank you Imran Khan, however I hope this is not just to gain some political score. Hope you will keep it real and try to work with other parties who have educated workers and leaders. Otherwise no significant results will come out.....The people of Lahore and other big Cities in Punjab need to keep their eye open and deman fairness from their leaders and seats for poor people from top to bottom. No more family politics please for your own good....I hope we got the message.
Ahmed j Oct 07, 2012 09:01am
Suicide Bombers kills those who support Drone Attacks and this is a vicious cycle, isn't it? Someone has to stop first. If the suicide bomber stop would the Drones Attack stop? No, it wont but if the Drone Attacks stop, certainly suicide bomb would stop. Simple but it may not look simple from USA.
Syed Ahmed Oct 06, 2012 01:52am
Wish PTI a safe journey and success in their mission.
KeenObserver Oct 07, 2012 12:20pm
Mr. Agha. hat a pathetic and illogical comment. Agree with Ghalib Khan.