Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on Thursday insisted a planned “peace march” to South Waziristan would kickoff on October 6 despite security fears and doubts over whether the authorities would allow it.
However, he did suggest that the main gathering would take place wherever authorities intervened and stopped the rally – even if that was before the slated destination: Kotkai in South Waziristan.
Imran, who plans to lead a convoy from Islamabad to South Waziristan on the weekend to protest against US drone strikes, said that no one could stop the peace march, adding that President Asif Ali Zardari would be directly responsible for any untoward situation.
“Drone strikes are a crime against humanity. The whole world will be told how drones are destructive and counterproductive through this march,” Imran told a news conference here, adding that the Taliban had given their agreement through intermediaries in the tribal areas.
There have been conflicting reports this week about whether permission for the march to enter South Waziristan has been granted, and by whom – but the PTI chief insisted it would go ahead. “The tribes have got in touch with the militants and the tribes have told us that it’s fine, they have no objections to it,” Imran said.
“I still don’t understand… why is the government going to stop us? When they know neither the militants are objecting to this, nor are the tribal areas objecting to this and certainly the army’s not objecting to this,” the PTI chief said, adding that only the government, which he alleged was profiting by allowing drone strikes in the tribal areas, was against the planned march.
“We cannot win this war until we engage the tribal people in it,” Imran added.
PTI plans to take Western journalists and campaigners on the march, including the British head of a charity called Reprieve. Clive Stafford Smith, 30 American anti-drone campaigners, and Imran’s own children.
PTI plans to lead the march to the village of Kotkai in South Waziristan and rally there, but Imran suggested that, if the authorities intervened, they would hold the rally wherever they were stopped.
Stafford Smith, who wrote an open letter to US President Barack Obama asking him not to order a drone strike on the marchers, said it was important to shed light on what was going on in Pakistan’s tribal areas. “It’s when we begin to open the world up to inspection that people see the truth… and the reason we have to go to stand by people in Waziristan is that otherwise people won’t see the truth,” he said.
Meanwhile, rejecting media reports that the Taliban will provide security to the PTI rally, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) central spokesperson Ehsanaullah Ehsan said that the outfit’s Central Shura held a meeting under the leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud and made a decision regarding PTI’s march to South Waziristan. However, the decision will only be shared with the media in the next 48 hours. On the other hand, Railways Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour said that the PTI peace march was a drama orchestrated at someone else’s behest.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2012.