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Imran Khan Leads March Against Drone Attacks To South Waziristan

October 06, 2012
by Sailab Mahsud

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- The Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan is leading a procession into the South Waziristan tribal region to protest U.S. drone missile strikes near the Afghan border.

The rally began in Islamabad, with a convoy of some 100 Jeeps, buses, and cars beginning a 400-kilometer drive to the tribal region.

As the procession set off, the former cricket star told supporters "a huge welcome is awaiting us."

"Now what we hope is that there is a massive turnout all along the way, people would be supporting this march," Khan said. "I know there is a huge interest, despite the government trying everything to sabotage it by saying that the Taliban have released suicide bombers on the way."

Authorities in the areas bordering the tribal region have warned that foreign activists traveling in Khan's convoy may be barred from entering South Waziristan.

Concerns Of Attacks

Khan Bakash, an official in the border city of Dera Ismail Khan, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that foreigners would not be allowed to proceed past that point without official permission from the government.

It was not clear whether any of the foreigners participating in the rally had received permission to enter South Waziristan. The convoy is expected to reach the border area late on October 6.

​​There were concerns the presence of foreigners in the tribal region could cause the march to be targeted by Islamist militants, although Khan has dismissed such speculation.
​​A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban on October 5 condemned the march, calling Khan a puppet of the West.

Khan, head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice), is among Pakistanis who allege that U.S. drone strikes have killed large numbers of innocent civilians and that the campaign should be halted.

A report released in the West last month estimates that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan in the past eight years.

U.S. officials maintain that the drone strikes are a valuable tool in the battle against extremists in the Pakistani-Afghan border zone. American officials say the strikes are very precise and that the majority of those killed by the missiles are Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.

'Illegal And Immoral'

The head of the British rights organization Reprieve and antidrone campaigners from the U.S. group Code Pink are among the foreigners participating in the rally.

A day earlier, dozens of American and British protesters staged an antidrone demonstration in Islamabad, calling the strikes illegal and immoral.

The Pakistani government has said it supports the U.S. goal of countering militants in the border zone, but disagrees with the drone strikes, calling them illegal and a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

Still, a number of officials expressed skepticism that Khan's high-profile rally would help reduce the number of drone attacks.

Akhunzada Chattan, a lawmaker from the Bajaur Agency in the far north of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, called on Khan to show restraint and concentrate on issues like education that could improve the lives of ordinary residents.

"I request that Imran Khan and the country’s other politicians should come to our tribal areas with a message of peace and message of education," Chattan said. "They should not ignite the flames and encourage people further towards war. They can come with a jirga (assembly of elders) and ask those who are destroying our schools and stopping girls from attending school to stop these activities, so that tribal people can stand in line with the progressive nations of the world."

Others have criticized Khan, who is seeking Pakistan's presidency in 2013, of using the protest as a campaign stunt.

'Political Gimmickry'

Bushra Gaohar, a lawmaker with the Awami National Party, accused Khan of colluding with the Taliban to boost his political standing at the expense of ordinary residents in the tribal areas.

"Imran Khan is a Taliban supporter and he does all these activities with the Taliban’s help," Gaohar said. "[His rally] will benefit the Taliban, terrorists, and those who have destroyed the tribal people’s lives by hijacking them. I look at [the rally] as political gimmickry, and this will not benefit tribal people in any way, shape, or form."

In South Waziristan, residents like Badam Gul were likewise doubtful the much-publicized rally would bring much good.

"In the current situation, we do not care who is coming, whether it is Imran Khan or someone else. It is nonsense," Gul said. "We need cure for our wounds. We do not have any hope. There is no one who has listened to us or will really hear our problems."

Haji Muhammad Maehsud, an elder with South Waziristan's Mehsud tribe, echoed the sentiment.

"Imran Khan's rally will bring no benefit to the people of Waziristan," Maehsud said. "He can benefit from this rally politically, but it does not bring anything good for our people in the Mehsud tribe."

With agency reports


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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