Pakistan forces halt anti-US drone march to S. Waziristan
After consultations with the organizers, army officials convinced them to drop the plan in view of the security situation in the area.
The marchers returned to Tank, a major city near South Waziristan, where the organizer of the rally, former cricket superstar-turned-politician Imran Khan, addressed the ten thousand-strong rally.
"The drones are inhumane," Khan said, surrounded by thousands of protesters.
"We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you.”
About 30 Americans traveled to Pakistan to take part in the protest and apologize 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, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran from New York.
Robert Naiman, an analyst of US foreign policy, who also took part in the rally, explained to RT why he decided to travel to Pakistan.
“There is a mismatch between what is happening in Pakistan’s tribal areas as a result of the US policy and the discussion, or lack of discussion of these issues and these policies impact in the US,” he said. “With respect to US drone strikes the top level US officials usually refuse to discuss the policy at all claiming that it is classified, which is ridiculous because everybody knows that there is a drone strikes program. The only thing they do is speak about it in very vague and misleading terms that does not allow a substantive discussion of real issues.”
Naiman explained that the actual policy is something completely different from the story that is being told in the US.
“The story that is being told in the US says it is all about targeting top-level terrorist leaders and is not killing civilians,” he explained. “The reality is the total opposite to this. And this story is so far not gotten to American people. That is why I am here to try and to do something to raise up this story. As well as to humanize Pakistani civilians. These civilian lives in the tribal areas are being counted as zero in the formation of the US policy – not counted for anything. And we want to humanize these people before the American public so we can turn this policy around.”
“There should be more transparency. The US government must be called to account internationally and domestically, explain why they think their policy is legal under the international law and the US law, come clean of the issue of civilian casualties,” he added.
Earlier, a group of US and British anti-war activists have already marched through the Pakistani capital Islamabad in protest against US drone strikes in the northwest territory.
They chanted “Stop, stop drone attacks!" and sang "We are marching to Waziristan." One placard read "Drones fly, Children die."
The group then boarded around 150 cars and the motorcade proceeded through the route, stopping in major urban centers to rally more supporters.
The Western activists, including the US-based peace and social justice movement CODEPINK and Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the London-based legal advocacy organization Reprieve, have also met with relatives of people said to have been killed in drone attacks.
"We have learned here from victims' families how innocent people, children and women, are being killed. Enough is enough. We should stop these attacks," AP quotes CODEPINK activist Linda Wenning as saying.
The two-day rally has been organized by Imran Khan, the sportsman-turn-politician who has become a top critic of American drone strikes in Pakistan, saying they have killed many innocent civilians.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for the main Pakistani Taliban faction, made a statement on Friday calling Khan a "slave of the West" and saying that the militants "don't need any sympathy" from such "a secular and liberal person."
"Imran Khan's so-called Peace March is not in sympathy for drone-hit Muslims. Instead, it's an attempt by him to increase his political stature," Ahsan claimed.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) head Imran Khan, wearing a traditional turban, speaks to supporters during a peace march against U.S. drone strikes from Islamabad to South Waziristan, in Pakistan's northwestern town of Tank October 7, 2012 (Reuters / Stringer)
Peace activists from the U.S. and supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) march as they protest against the drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region at Islamabad October 5, 2012. (Reuters/Mian Khursheed)
Tensions are running high between Pakistan and the US over the latter’s drone attacks on the majority-Islamic nation. Washington insists that its airstrikes, part of the US “War on Terror” campaign seeking to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants crossing the Afghanistan border, are very precise.
However the recent study at Stanford and New York University titled ‘Living Under Drones’ proves US drone strikes do little to make the US safer. The study claimed that only 2 per cent of drone strike casualties in Pakistan are top militants, and that the large number of resultant civilian deaths turn ordinary Pakistanis against the US.
The study also revealed that number of casualties among Pakistani civilians was far higher than the US acknowledged.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, from June 2004 till mid-September 2012, between 2,562 and 3,325 people were killed in drone strikes Pakistan, mostly in the North Waziristan region. Some 474 to 881 of those killed were civilians, including 176 children. Another 1,300 were wounded.
Pakistan cricketer turned politician Imran Khan waves to supporters at the start of a rally on the outskirts of Islamabad on October 6, 2012. Khan is leading western peace activists and local loyalists on a highly publicised rally to Pakistan's tribal belt in protest against US drone strikes. (AFP Photo/A Majeed)
Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-politician and head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is speaks to supporters as he leads a peace march against U.S. drone strikes from Islamabad to South Waziristan, in Mianwali October 6, 2012. (Reuters/Ahsan Baloch)