Pakistani military turns back peace convoy
TANK, Pakistan — The Pakistani military blocked Sunday a convoy carrying thousands of Pakistanis and a small contingent of U.S. antiwar activists from entering a lawless tribal region along the border with Afghanistan to protest American drone strikes.
The group, led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and his political party, was turned back just miles from the border of South Waziristan.
After an hour of fruitless negotiations, Mr. Khan announced that the caravan would backtrack to the city of Tank, about nine miles away. There, he delivered a speech to the crowd of about 10,000.
He has been especially outspoken against U.S. drone strikes targeting militants and has argued that the country’s alliance with Washington is the main reason Pakistan is facing a homegrown Taliban insurgency. He has suggested before that militant activity in Pakistan’s tribal areas will dissipate when the U.S. ends the war across the border in Afghanistan.
“We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you,” Mr. Khan told the crowd.
The anti-American sentiment, always high in Pakistan, was evident in the crowd that waved banners saying “Down with America,” and “The friend of America is the traitor of the nation.”
The protest convoy of about 150 cars set out Saturday from the capital Islamabad, traveled 250 miles and then stopped overnight in the city of Dera Ismail Khan. The plan for the second and final day was to travel another 70 miles to reach Kotkai in South Waziristan.
But the military stopped the convoy in the town of Kawar.
Mr. Khan told the rally that they wanted to continue their journey to Kotkai, but the army said it was too late, and going inside South Waziristan at night was dangerous. Mr. Khan said he didn’t want to put his supporters in danger, so he turned the rally around to Tank.
Regardless of whether he was able to enter the tribal region, Mr. Khan portrayed the two-day motorcade as a success.
“We have taken the voice of the people of Waziristan to the world,” he said.
Thousands of supporters had turned out along the route to cheer on the convoy, which stretched about nine miles, including accompanying media. Some of those packed into the vehicles waved flags for Mr. Khan’s political group and chanted, “We want peace.”
Video on Pakistani media showed barricades with hundreds of police in riot gear, a sign of concerns that the motorcade would be attacked or become unruly.