THE march was declared a political sham before it even got started. Newspapers and commentators called it an unnecessary security risk, concocted by a political leader interested in using the drone issue to garner political votes. And everyone — including Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf’s (PTI) own leaders and members — knew that the government might block their entrance into South Waziristan’s border town of Kotkai. An opportunity, said analysts, for PTI to stage a protest without even entering the tribal areas.

But when the protest left Islamabad — with loudspeakers blaring love songs for Imran Khan, and attan-dancing PTI members hoping to enter South Waziristan — it seemed like the march might just stop drones through sheer enthusiasm. Neither the lax security, nor the confused organisation (many participants found themselves left behind, or momentarily lost) seemed to deter the hard-core members of the PTI from marching towards a territory where the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and their splinter groups have threatened attacks. Even the most cynical observer could be touched by the PTI protesters, who along with American anti-war protestors drove towards some of Pakistan’s most dangerous areas.

Like the PTI protesters, the Americans too were enthusiastic: “We are ready to die for this cause,” said a 71-year-old American participant, who followed the PTI protest with over 30 other anti-war demonstrators.

“We cannot allow our government to continue this!” said another, exasperated and convinced, it seemed, of the impact that their march could have on US drone attacks in the region.

The team from Code Pink, a coalition of anti-war activists — many of them older and women — seemed oddly misplaced in the areas that they were driving through.

Unaware of the political context — where a political party has been accused of branding itself on this march, a few months before elections might be declared — they nevertheless remained convinced of the rightness of the decision, and the importance of showing that all Americans do not support drone attacks.

As the caravan touched down in places like Talagang, Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan, throngs of PTI supporters showed up on the streets, waving flags and hoping to catch a glimpse of Imran Khan, party leaders, and — perhaps — Salman Ahmad of Junoon. Some seemed to be more enthusiastic about the well-known names than the anti-drone protests.

When asked, they said they had turned out to “support Imran Khan”. Some did not know that it was a peace protest, and those that did, seemed to be unaware of the core message: That this was an anti-drone march. Red-and-green flags, names of politicians and their districts numbers, and Imran Khan faces plastered everywhere made it seem more like a party march than a peace march. It is still not clear why Imran Khan did not invest significant time in inviting other political parties to join him.

And despite the talk of army protection, security forces were only spotted when the caravan hit Dera Ismail Khan. The army’s role in ensuring that the march could continue — possibly through other channels — could still be true, but their visible presence seemed thin, or non-existent.

When the caravan hits Dera Ismail Khan, a local peace activist tells Dawn that tribals — not locals — have showed up to support the caravan. “This rally does not really deal with some of the issues that we work with in this part of the country,” he says. But despite his critique, one analyst points out that Imran Khan seems to have brought the country’s “Wild West” into Pakistan, at least in the PTI definition. “I am pleased to see that Imran Khan has turned out for this issue,” said Kareem Khan, a drone victim participating in the march.

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