Protesters in Pakistan protest U.S. drone strikes

2012-10-08T00:00:00Z Protesters in Pakistan protest U.S. drone strikesBy Saeed Shah • McClatchy Newspapers stltoday.com
October 08, 2012 12:00 am  • 

TANK, Pakistan • A convoy protesting U.S. drone strikes and led by Imran Khan, a cricket star turned politician, stopped short Sunday of its goal to reach Pakistan's lawless tribal area after threats of an attack from the Pakistani Taliban.

After a chaotic and grueling two-day march from Islamabad, Khan halted the procession just past Tank, the last town before South Waziristan. That region of the tribal area is generally considered a no-go zone for Westerners and others, even though the Pakistani army supposedly drove out the Taliban in 2009.

Khan said in a statement that he stopped the march after it had passed Tank when the military contacted him to warn of a "genuine threat" ahead in South Waziristan. On Friday, the Pakistani Taliban issued a statement criticizing Khan and the march, and U.S. diplomats had warned Americans among the marchers of a potential terrorist attack.

Still, the march, which included the British-American human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and activists from the U.S. peace group Code Pink, drew attention to Khan's opposition to the U.S. missile strikes, which has been a centerpiece of his political life.

Festooned with flags and posters, the march — actually a long train of several hundred vehicles — was greeted en route by enthusiastic crowds, who turned out in towns and villages along the way, waving and wanting to see Khan, a Pakistani superstar for his years as a champion cricket player. Khan is expected to launch a long-shot push to become Pakistan's next prime minister when elections are held sometime in the next few months.

"Drones are against all human rights and international law. We wish to give the Americans a message: The more you do your drone attacks, the more people here will hate you," Khan said at a rally of several thousand supporters in a dusty field at the end of the march.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, who led 32 activists to the event, said: "Our government has been lying to us. With the drones, we are pursuing an immoral, inhumane, unwise and counterproductive policy."

Khan claims that most people killed by the drones are civilians and that the anger this generates drives terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as tribesmen take revenge. The U.S. government, which rarely acknowledges the classified drone program, says the overwhelmingly majority of those killed are terrorists.

Since the program started in 2004, the CIA has carried out 334 missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal area. Those have killed 1,886 to 3,194 people, according to a tally kept by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based research organization.

"If these drones stopped, this area, Waziristan, would be peaceful," said Kalim Ullah Khan Dawar, of North Waziristan, one of the marchers. "I've had to carry out the bodies of dead children myself from the wreckage of strikes."

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