TANK: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan addressed a rally against US drone strikes in Tank after the party’s peace march failed to enter Waziristan on Sunday.
Khan and his followers had bypassed road blocks to reach Tank, defying official warnings, and then headed towards Kotkai in South Waziristan. On reaching the Waziristan border, the rally was stopped by Pakistan Army at Manzai Checkpost, as tweeted by Dr Awab Alvi of PTI.
The caravan returned back to Tank, where Khan addressed the participants.
Addressing the rally in Tank, Khan said that several innocent people were arrested on charges of terrorism in the war against terror. He said that the rally returned from Waziristan border as it was not possible to return from the area before sunset, said PTI’s official account on Twitter.
The account further quoted Khan as saying that he was concerned about the safety of the rally participants.
He added that the US drone strikes were in violation of human rights.
“We will spend money on the people of our tribal areas and provide them education… The locals will not have to go to any other place, they will get all opportunities in Waziristan only,” Khan stated.
Khan said that it won’t be long till he gives a call for a rally in Islamabad. “To save the country, we will head towards Islamabad one day. We will make a new Pakistan.”
The rally was also earlier stopped by Frontier Corps at one of their check posts in Tank and media was barred from coverage for around an hour.
Authorities earlier said they will not be allowed to enter the tribal belt – where missiles fired by US drones routinely target militants – for security reasons and blocked the road to Tank with shipping containers.
But for reasons that were not immediately clear police removed the containers, allowing the convoy – which appears to be smaller than the size initially predicted by organisers – to approach Tank.
“It’s our right to go to our people,” said student Fakhruddin Shinwari, accusing the Pakistani government of trying to hide the real situation in the tribal belt.
“There’s no security risk. The main factor is if Imran Khan goes to Waziristan the real situation made by the United States and Pakistan will be seen. There are no terrorists there – it will be shown to be a lie.”
There was a heavy security presence along the road to Tank, which a senior police officer had said earlier was not safe and targeted by roadside bombings.
Khan earlier on Sunday urged activists to remain peaceful and to seek no confrontation with the authorities.
“We are already successful in our mission,” he told the crowd. “Your voice has reached the world over.”
Medea Benjamin, leader of a delegation from the US peace group CodePink, apologised for the drone attacks, saying: “We are so grateful that you understand there are Americans in solidarity with you and against our government policy.”
PTI plans to proceed to the village of Kotkai in South Waziristan, notorious as a place where Taliban commander Qari Hussain – said to have been killed by a drone missile in 2010 – used to train suicide bombers.
Clive Stafford Smith, the British head of the legal lobby group Reprieve, said that whether or not the group reached its intended destination was irrelevant.
“It’s already a wonderful success,” he told reporters. “It doesn’t matter what happens from here on. We’ve generated a huge amount of publicity not just in Pakistan but across the world.”
Khan, who is campaigning ahead of general elections next year, has made opposition to the drone programme a key plank of PTI policy.
Critics accuse him of merely trying to further his own career and of ignoring both atrocities blamed on militants and abuses by the Pakistani army.
While he is a growing political force, challenging feudal and industrial elites who traditionally dominate in Pakistan, there is huge scepticism about his ability to translate popularity into parliamentary seats.
Kifayetullah, the political commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan who uses one name, told AFP Saturday that it was “out of the question” that the protesters would be allowed to enter Waziristan because of security fears.
View a slideshow of pictures from today’s rally here.