Imran Khan’s Peace March to restive FATA region of Pakistan for highlighting the woes of innocent victims of drone attacks has already taken off and is midway. The rally is massive by all measures keeping in view the numbers, the distance involved and the riskiness of destination terrain. Yet, the TV images of the zeal of the participants of this rally show one thing; the rally has achieved its objectives before it even reached Kotkai. The activists of Imran Khan’s party have put their total confidence in the justness of the cause of their leader. This confidence is shared by a number of Americans and other Westerners who have joined the rally.
It seems that everyone other than Khan’s admirers is one way or the other, opposed to this bold initiative; the government, being unable to provide security cover, rival parties for having been deprived of a political opportunity seized by Khan and a religious party for participation of foreigners. This party considers anti-US protests being its very own political territory and political capital. Two major stakeholders; the Pakistani Taliban perceived to be Indian proxy and the US government are also opposed to this rally.
According to reports, the US diplomats have been holding secret meetings with members of the anti-war group Code Pink, warning them against attending a rally in Pakistan’s South Waziristan Agency which aims to protest ongoing US drone strikes against the region. During the meetings the diplomats reportedly showed the activists a “threat assessment” which was a piece of paper with a single sentence of text claiming there was a threat, then warned them not to go on to the Pakistani tribal areas.
The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan has issued a statement disavowing claims that they had endorsed the event, but those statements don’t appear to have included any specific threats to attack. A statement issued by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Friday denied all news reports of the militant organization offering protection to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) South Waziristan rally and called the rally an attempt by Imran Khan to “increase his political height”. The statement also said that they would not reveal their plans against anyone as that would be against “military tactics”.
The march has already begun in the capital city of Islamabad and is on its way to the Pakistani tribal areas from there. The Americans already in Pakistan say they will go on with the march despite the warnings.
There are some serious reservations on the motives of this peace rally. Some argue that Khan’s party is yet to protest against deaths of innocent civilians numbering around 40,000and some 5,000 security personnel killed by Pakistani Taliban in suicide and IED attacks. Drones have killed just about 2,500 which also include deadly terrorists. Khan’s assertion that drones violate Pakistan’s sovereignty is countered by the analysts on the grounds that the presence of foreign terrorists targeted by these drones is graver violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty than the drones themselves. Some try to see political objectives of anti-Obama activists who are trying to highlight human rights violations of the administration in order to influence Obama’s reelection bid when US presidential election is just around the corner.
Khan is joined by British civil rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith who took the precautionary measure of writing to President Obama and his CIA director, David Petraeus, informing them about the march. In the letter, he requested that the president ensure the names of him and the other marchers would not be on the weekly kill list the president reviews, along with security officials, in the White House situation room. According to The Guardian, Smith wrote: “Please remember that you and I are both lawyers from the same tradition, and it would be unseemly (as well as being both illegal and upsetting for my family) if you were to authorize my assassination.”
The Afghan Taliban allegedly taking refuge in North Waziristan and operating against US forces in Afghanistan are real targets of drones. Contrary to this, Pakistani Taliban or TTP have never been the principal target of drones as they only operate against Pakistani state and civilians. But Smith is not prepared to believe that Afghan Taliban, or Haqqani Network, can be a serious threat to US and NATO forces demolishing the entire case of the legality of use of killer drones. According to him, there’s no evidence those in Waziristan deemed America’s enemies have either the will or ability to threaten America from thousands of miles away.
To ensure the marchers’ safe passage into Waziristan, the paper reports, four groups were identified from whom assurances were needed. These included locals and tribal leaders, the Pakistan army, the Pakistan Taliban and finally the US. Currently, all but the US and Pakistani Taliban have provided their assurances. But Smith is skeptical as his greatest worry concerns a CIA-sponsored attack made to appear it was carried out by the Taliban.
The march, if it is permitted to go ahead, will not reach the heart of the drone-hit area. But it will have registered the message that drones kill even those who are non-combatant. Will Mr. Khan organize another march against Pakistani Taliban who are an Indian proxy and also against foreign terrorists living on Pakistani soil who invite drone attacks and who are responsible for instability of the entire region, is a question agitating thinking minds?