Khan’s drone protest stopped from entering tribal regions
PAKISTANI authorities stopped a protest over US drone strikes led by cricketer turned politician Imran Khan from entering the troubled region of South Waziristan, prompting allegations the government was ambivalent about American actions.
Pakistan’s military and the civilian government publicly complain that the CIA strikes – aimed at remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taleban – infringe the country’s sovereignty and cause civilian casualties. Yet the government has taken little concrete action against the strikes.
Mr Khan, who blames the government for allowing the US to operate in the country, had planned to lead the 10,000-strong protest from the capital into South Waziristan, a tribal area frequently hit by the drone strikes.
But authorities yesterday blocked their path with shipping containers on the highway. After several delays the army told protesters it was unsafe to be on the road after dark and they turned back.
“The drones are inhumane,” Mr Khan said. “Are these people not humans? These humans have names. Drone attacks are a violation of human rights.”
Regardless of whether he was able to enter the tribal region, Mr Khan portrayed the two-day motorcade as a success.
“We have taken the voice of the people of Waziristan to the world,” he said.
About 30 Americans travelled to Pakistan to take part in the protest and apologise for the strikes to men and women who had been maimed or lost family members.
“We have to put pressure on the United States government,” said Billy Kelly, 69, a Vietnam War veteran from New York.
The US says the strikes have killed senior Taleban and al- Qaeda commanders and civilian casualties are minimal. But it refuses to say how targets are selected or how the military determines whether the dead were fighters or civilians.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks drone strikes, said between 1,232 and 1,366 people had been killed since the strikes began in 2004, of which 474-884 were believed to be civilians. Whatever the true civilian death toll, a recent report, Living Under Drones, said that large areas of Pakistan’s tribal areas were “terrorised” by the drones.
Getting accurate data on casualties and the effects of drones is extremely difficult since the government allows few foreigners into the tribal areas and the Taleban often seal off the sites of strikes.
The march highlighted the way that drones complicate the Pakistani government’s already uneasy relationship with the US. Americans often justify the strikes by saying Pakistan is unable or unwilling to crush the insurgency.
“The government is making pro forma protests but Imran has shown the world he will do something,” said Shamsad Ahmed Khan, a former foreign secretary. He noted the government declared a national day of protests over a blasphemous film last month, but it had never called for such a protest over the drone strikes.
Some Pakistanis, however, questioned why the marchers were not talking about atrocities by the Taleban or the Pakistani army, both of which have killed far more people than the drone strikes.
Columnist Saroop Ijaz said that the Taleban frequently and deliberately target civilians by bombing hospitals, schools, funerals and shrines.
“Drone attacks began and continue because of the ideology of murder and not the other way around,” he wrote in the Express Tribune.
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