Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan organized a peace march to South Waziristan to protest U.S. drone attacks this past weekend. The peace march started from Islamabad on Saturday morning.
Khan told the media that President Asif Ali Zardari would be responsible for any mishaps in the march.
There are main two reasons people took interest in the peace march. First, many people, even in Pakistan, never thought that they would ever visit South Waziristan. The area was once the safe haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. The other reason is that most people in Pakistan are against the drone attacks, which kill more innocent people than high-value targets.
Foreign journalists also got the chance to enter the area for the first time after many years.
The presence of U.S. activist women of CodePink, along with Clive Smith, founder of the British human rights group Reprieve, and Lauren Booth, a recent covert to Islam and sister-in-law to Tony Blair, also increased interest in the march.
Many people carried banners condemning drone attacks in the country. One of the banners read “Drone increases the number of militants.”
Nineteen-year-old Beacon House school student, Ibrar Khan, came from Abbottabad to join the peace march. A tenth-grade student, Khan explained why he joined the rally. “I want to show my sympathies with the young innocent boys who are killed in drones,” he said. “I know it is dangerous to go to South Waziristan, but I am going only to catch the attention of the world about the cruel drone attacks. I want to play my role.”
Twenty-one-year-old Abid Mehsood lost his three brothers in a drone attack in 2008. Mehsood got emotional when asked about the death of his brothers. “I will get revenge from American government whenever I will get chance,” he said. “I pray they would not leave Afghanistan for sometime so that I would get a chance to fight against them.”
The locals were enthusiastic about the rally. People in Dera Ismail Khan welcomed the rally with local music of dhool and shehnaie (drum and pipe, it is how they show their happiness) and making a “V” sign with fingers when people entered in the area Saturday evening.
There was rumor that the peace march might be attacked with suicide bombers. Meanwhile, some people were talking in the small restaurants that the government would not allow anyone to enter to South Waziristan.
Twenty-nine-year-old Nasreen Fareed, in search of renting a room to stay for a night, said “I and my other female friend have made our mind that we would go to South Waziristan, whatever the situation would be.” It is the first time she has visited Dera Ismail Khan.
The peace march started moving toward South Waziristan in late morning. The government had put containers on the main road to stop people but soon they were removed.
Fifty-five-year-old Chudhry Rahman, who came from Lahore, was talking to his friends and family members. “The government can’t take the risk to stop such a huge gathering of people,” he said. “The main aim is to delay the movement, so that people would not reach Kotakai where the peace march will end.” He was of the view that Imran Khan should stop the march at one of the blockades, which would show the world the real face of Pakistan government: it does not want drones to be stopped.
Some of the young people moved a heavy container from the road, which was put on the main bridge that leads to South Waziristan. A member of the security forces told me: “I want peace in South Waziristan, and the rally is the start of peace in the area, but I fail to understand why we would stop such a huge gathering from South Waziristan. I do what I am asked to do, so I am here to stop them.”
Three hurdles delayed the long caravan of vehicles for more than three hours, which eventually resulted in entering South Waziristan late. Dabara became the last destination of the peace march in South Waziristan, instead of Kotakai. The Pakistani Army told Imran Khan that it would be too late for people to return from Kotakai.
Imran Khan addressed the participants in the town of Tank, on the edge of South Waziristan. He congratulated his party members for a successful peace march and said drone attacks are against human rights and international law.
One of the old men in the gathering called a drone a “buzzing bee that only causes death and destruction to people in South and North Waziristan.”
“We don’t have a life since the drones attacks have started in our area.” he told me in a low voice which I could hardly hear as people chanted “Stop drone attacks. Stop drones.”