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Pak army blocks Imran's rally against US drones

By Rezaul H Laskar
October 07, 2012 19:39 IST
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A march against US drone strikes in Pakistan led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was stopped by the army on the edge of the nation's lawless tribal belt due to fears of possible militant attacks on the rallyists, which also included American anti-war activists.

A motorcade of scores of vehicles was turned back by the army just a few kilometres from the boundary of volatile South Waziristan Agency, forcing the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief to cancel his plans to address a gathering at Kotkai village in the tribal region.

59-year-old Khan then led his supporters back to Tank, a town in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province that adjoins the tribal region, and addressed a gathering of a few thousand people.

He contended that the march had succeeded in creating international awareness about the Pakistani people's opposition to CIA-operated drones.

He claimed that his party would make a "clean sweep" in the upcoming general election.

"We came all the way to Waziristan. Soon, I will call on you to come to Islamabad," he said, referring to his party's claim that it would come to power in the polls.

"We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you," he told his supporters.

In a message posted on Twitter, Khan said he was told "by the army that (there was) serious danger ahead" on the path to the tribal belt. "Did not want to risk lives and turned back," he said.

Other leaders of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf tweeted the army had advised them to turn back as there was a "real danger of (an) ambush".

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said authorities had only put in places measures for providing security to the march and had made no effort to stop it.

A small contingent of US anti-war activists from the women's group Code Pink joined the march. They claimed the drone strikes, contrary to the claims of the US administration, have killed many civilians and not just Taliban and Al Qaeda elements.

The American activists apologised for their government's actions and led the people in shouting slogans like "Bandh karo drone hamle bandh karo".

After an overnight halt at Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Khan's motorcade set off for the tribal region.

At the same time, officials of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government made it clear that the march would not be allowed to proceed beyond Tank.

Talking to his supporters this morning, Khan said: "We have succeeded in our mission. The whole world has heard your voice and the international media has condemned drone attacks."

He claimed the PPP-led government had failed to tell the international community about the Pakistani people's opposition to the drone campaign.

The Pakistan government publicly criticises the attacks by CIA-operated spy planes as counterproductive and a violation of the country's sovereignty.

However, analysts believe there is a tacit understanding between the US and Pakistan on the drone campaign.

Dozens of Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders have been killed in drone strikes over the past four years though peace activists claim the attacks cause considerable collateral damage.

Accurate figures on casualties in the drone strikes are hard to come by as reporters and rights groups are barred from operating in the tribal belt.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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