Imran Khan and a group of human-rights activists have vowed to press
ahead with a march into Pakistan's remote tribal area to highlight the
civilian cost of the American drone missile programme.
The cricketer-turned-politician said he would hold the government of
President Asif Ali Zardari responsible if anything happened to those
taking part. Mr Khan is tomorrow due to lead a convoy of vehicles into
the tribal areas, culminating in a rally in South Waziristan on Sunday
night. He is to be accompanied by human-rights campaigners from the US
and Pakistan. In recent days, government officials had tried to warn the
politician off, suggesting it might not be safe for the large
contingent, despite an apparent statement from the Taliban that it would
not target the activists.
Last night, campaigners said it was
essential they pushed ahead with the plan. Speaking from Islamabad,
Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the US-based Code Pink campaign group,
said people were prepared to risk danger to show solidarity with the
people of the tribal areas. "We came here to show the people of Pakistan
that there are Americans who are totally opposed to the drones and that
we will try to put pressure on our government to stop this," she said.
"And we are prepared to risk our lives to do this."
Mr Khan, who
heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, has been among the most
outspoken critics of the US drone programme, an operation that started
under former President George Bush but which was escalated under the
administration of Barack Obama. The US claims the CIA-operated missile
programme is an invaluable tool for targeting al-Qa'ida fighters and
other militants and claims there is a strict process to ensure civilian
casualties are minimised. The US claims, in private, that Pakistan's
military co-operates with the programme.
But activists say that up
to 800 civilians have been killed in recent years, among them up to 200
children. A recent report by experts from two US universities suggested
that as few as 2 per cent of those killed were known militants.
Shahzad Akbar, a high court lawyer and activist, heads a group called
the Freedom Foundation that in recent years has been bringing residents
from the tribal areas – including the relatives of those killed in drone
strikes – to Islamabad so they can meet with journalists and activists.
One of those who attended a meeting last year was 16-year-old Tariq
Aziz. Two days after he returned home, he was killed by a drone-fired
missile. Mr Akbar said the activists were determined to show that "peace
He said: "We also have to break this black hole of
information about what is happening inside North and South Waziristan.
People from there want to talk to outsiders and outsiders want to talk
to them. Why is a government trying to stop this?"
As part of the
campaign, activists have delivered a letter calling for an end to drones
signed by 26 US writers, activists and artists – including Noam
Chomsky, Danny Glover and Oliver Stone – to the US embassy in Islamabad.
Americans found out what the war in Afghanistan was, they turned
against it," said Robert Naiman, of Just Foreign Policy, a group taking
part in the march. "When Americans find out the drone-strike policy in
Pakistan is killing and terrorising civilians and hitting civilian
rescuers, they will turn against the drone-strike policy in Pakistan as