PESHAWAR - Thousands of demonstrators descended on a Nato troop supplies route in Peshawar Saturday to protest the government’s alleged compliance with US drone strikes.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan led the protest, demanding government officials take a stand against the drone attacks and cease the transport of Nato troop supplies into Afghanistan.
Declaring it a ‘defining moment’ for the nation, Imran asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discontinue his ‘dual policies’ and take a firm stand ‘like a leader’. “We cannot go to UN Security Council or shoot down drones. But, we can at least block Nato supplies via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).” The PTI will go to every extent to stop drone attacks, he said.
The protest comes in the wake of two recent drone strikes that caused public outcry this month, including an attack outside of country’s remote tribal region that killed five people Thursday and the Nov 1 death of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud that resulted in TTP’s refusal to government’s peace talks’ offer.
About 10,000 people formed a blockade on the Ring Road used to transport equipment as more of a symbolic effort, since there is little Nato traffic on Saturdays. Thousands of activists participated in the rally, jointly organised by PTI, Jamaat-i-Islami and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad – the three coalition partners in KPK government.
“It is defining moment for Pakistani nation to decide about the country’s fate. I ask Nawaz Sharif whether he will continue his dual policies or take a firm stand like a leader... For God stake, don’t change your policy for the sake of dollars... The entire nation will stand with Nawaz if he takes a stand against drone strikes,“ Imran said.
“We can and we will block Nato supplies. We will put pressure on US to halt drones. Our protest will continue if drones are not stopped,” he vowed. The PTI chief said that Peshawar High Court had given a detail decision on the drone attacks. He said PTI would now go to the Supreme Court against the drone attacks.
Referring to a recent statement of JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman that PTI government wanted to become a martyr, Imran said the PTI government was going to become a ‘Ghazi’ instead. Imran said his party had made two commitments before the elections about corruption and peace, and they would fulfil those.
He also urged KPK cabinet to officially block Nato supplies. However, none of KPK?cabinet minister attended the protest. The demonstrators dispersed after Imran’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying they will begin stopping Nato trucks through KPK indefinitely beginning Sunday night.
During the protest, the activists burned US flags. A huge stage was set for the charged sit-in with a big banner on the top inscribed with ‘Our land, our way’ slogan. The PTI student activists also distributed ‘our land, our way’ pamphlets among participants. A senior police official in Peshawar said that some 15,000 activists participated.
PTI chief Imran said Nawaz had promised that he would stop drone strikes. “Today, people want to see that in practical,“ he remarked, asking Premier Nawaz that it was a time for him to become a leader and take a stand on drone strikes. The PM should clearly tell the US that there is a difference between friendship and slavery, he said, adding that US has nothing to do with Pakistani nation and “we should live as a respectable nation”.
Imran said PTI had accepted the election results and Nawaz as prime minister. “We supported you, we stood by you. We hoped you would start the peace dialogue soon. We hoped that when you would go the US and meet President Obama, you will at least ask him to stop the drone strikes while the peace dialogue is taking place. But when you talked over there, you did not mention the drones at all.”
War on terror has brought only destruction to Pakistan. “Our people have been sufferings from it. Our economy is weakening day by day. In KPK, over 79 percent industry has been shut down. “You have no idea about the level of devastation in KPK and Fata caused by this war.” Moreover, over 50,000 people of Pakistan have lost their lives.
In his address, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that when Imran was talking about drones, no one listened to him. “Now even the UN secretary general says that drone strikes are in violation of international laws. They call it war crimes,” he said. PTI President Javed Hashmi said PTI had decided to stop Nato supplies come what may and “we will not budge an inch from this stand”.
JI leader Liaquat Baloch asked government to shoot down the American drones. He announced that JI would also block Nato trucks in Karachi on Sunday (today). He said JI would record a strong protest against drones on Dec in Lahore. Baloch said they would not allow Nawaz to rule the country if the federal government tried to destabilise KPK government.
AML President Sheikh Rasheed said: “We are being killed by dengue, hepatitis, tuberculosis, electricity, gas, inflation as well as drones.” He continued saying that today democracy is threatened by democracy. Country’s economy has suffered the most and has almost been destroyed. The PM doesn’t even know the prices of flour and vegetables in the country. He said that a ‘gang of seven’ is ruling the country.
Earlier, PTI workers also staged a protest demonstration in front of US consulate and recorded their protest to stop drone attacks and killing of innocent people. Police were also deployed in front of US consulate to avert any sabotaging bid in Peshawar.