Anti-drone protesters from across Pakistan and around the world are gathering in Islamabad this week in preparation for a weekend march into the tribal areas of South Waziristan.
Ignoring a travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department for Pakistan, a delegation of 30 US activists and parents of U.S. Army soldiers has arrived in Islamabad, where they plan to join the October 6 and 7th march and rally.
The march is being organized and led by Imran Khan, the former Pakistani national cricket captain and now head of the polical party Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Khan and his party have emerged as the leading critics of America’s covert program of lethal drone strikes.
Khan has said that he expects up to 100,000 to join this weekend’s march.
When Khan announced plans for the march this summer the Pakistani Taliban said they would stop the march by killing Khan, the former cricket star turned politician Imran.
“If he comes, our suicide bombers will target him,” the Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told the Associated Press during an interview in a remote compound in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a mountainous and lawless region on the Afghan border.
Now, the Taliban have reversed themselves and say that will allow safe passage for Khan and the marchers. A spokesmen said:
“We are ready to provide them security if they need. We endorses Imran Khan’s plea that drone strikes are against our sovereignty… The anti-drone rallies should have been taken out by the religious leaders long ago but Imran had taken the lead and we wouldn’t harm him or his followers.”
On Sunday Khan accused the Pakistan government of refusing visas to several international journalists who were traveling to Pakistan to cover the march.
Ann Wright, a former U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. ambassador, is leading the US delegation. Wright had resigned from the Army when U.S. started its war against Iraq in 2003. She is now an anti-war activist and a member of CODEPINK.
Sunday afternoon Wright and Imran Khan held a press conference in Islamabad. Pakistan’sExpress Tribune reports:
“We came from U.S. for this historic march against drone attacks. We also went the places in U.S. from where the drones are operated and we registered our protest. We are also protesting U.S. war policies and we are telling you that American people are also against these attacks,” she said.
Wright said U.S. is violating the sovereignty of Pakistan by carrying out drone strikes.
“The US president has a hit-list on his desk and he looks at it every day to know who will be killed in Pakistan. This is criminal… We believe that travel warning is issued because the U.S. government does not want us to see what they are doing. We believe the President of the US is killing innocent people in Pakistan, that is wrong… We as Americans stand up against our government and you [have to] stand up against yours,” Wright said.