By Zia Ur Rehman

October 12-18, 2012

Imran Khan’s rally against US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas failed to reach its destination in South Waziristan. But leaders of his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf say it was successful.

Military authorities stopped the march at Manzai in the Tank frontier region after participants spent the night in Dera Ismail Khan. “I am not scared for my life and can go on to Kotkai, but I care for the security of the people and the party workers,” Imran told a crowd after security forces refused to allow them to enter South Waziristan.

South Waziristan, a restive tribal region bordering Afghanistan, is considered a stronghold of militants from the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda and other extremist outfits. Four major military operations have been carried out in the tribal agency, especially in its Mehsud areas, since 2004. The most recent offensive – Operation Rah-e-Nijat or Path to Salvation – began in October 2009.

There were concerns that local or foreign militants operating in the region could attack the participants of the march. PTI leaders dismissed the fears, but army officials persuaded them to take the rally back to Tank.

In a statement on October 5, TTP had called Imran a ‘slave of the West’ and that they did not need sympathy from a ‘secular’, ‘liberal’ politician. Pamphlets given out by a little known outfit Jaishul Mujahideen al Khilafat and TTP Punjab (Jarrar Chapter) in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank said Imran Khan had no sympathy for the people of the tribal areas and was using the issue for political leverage.

Drone attacks are an important and politically charged issue in Pakistan. “The march, which also included activists of the US based antiwar group Code Pink, aimed to highlight the foreign policy failures of the government, and to create international awareness about the humanitarian crisis caused by innocent deaths from drone strikes,” said Abdul Qayyum Kundi, a member of PTI’s advisory committee.

Asad Munir, a security and political analyst, said there were three key objectives behind Imran’s march -creating anti-drone awareness, showing solidarity with the tribal people, and to bring peace in the area. “He has achieved the first objective with the international media coverage, but that is not likely to have an effect on the drone operations, since the other two objectives were wrongly conceived,” Munir said.

Choosing the venue of Kotkai, which is the birthplace of Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP chief, and Qari Hussain, a master trainer of suicide bombers, also raised questions. A large population of the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, including Koktai, has been displaced.

Critics are questioning why Imran Khan did not choose Wana, the headquarters of South Wazirsitan inhabited mostly by the Wazir tribe, where locals could have attended the rally. The march was originally planned to end in North Waziristan, but the destination was changed later. Insiders say security forces had requested the change.

“Imran’s choice of Kotkai – the hometown of TTP leaders responsible for the killing of innocent people and troops, and for the destruction of schools, mosques and infrastructure – indicates his all-out support for Taliban militants,” said Bushra Gohar, a parliamentarian from the Awami National Party. She said it was intended to show solidarity with the Taliban, and not with the people of FATA who the militants had held hostage.

There have been 40 drone attacks since January this year, killing more than 475 people. The US carried out 72 drone strikes in 2011, 122 in 2010, 54 in 2009 and 36 in 2008, and killed between 1,886 and 3,191 individuals, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington based think tank. There were only 10 drone strikes from 2004 to the end of 2007. Of the 307 drone strikes from January to June this year, 238 were made in North Waziristan, and 69 in South Waziristan, a report said.

It is not clear how many of those killed are civilians. A recent study titled Living under Drones prepared by academics and students of Stanford University and New York University, says the vast majority of casualties were not senior militant commanders, but low-level militants and civilians. But the New America Foundation estimates 80% of the people killed in drone strikes were Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. This assertion was corroborated by Pakistani security official Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmood, who commanded troops in North Waziristan, in a media briefing in Miranshah on March 9 last year. Between 2007 and 2011, he said, 164 drone strikes had been carried out and over 964 terrorists had been killed. Of those who were killed, 793 were foreigners – Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans. Some elders and journalists from FATA say privately that the majority of the dead are militants or their local facilitators.

Imran was expecting up to 100,000 people to join the march, but local reporters said the number of participants was between 4,500 and 6,000. Reporters and PTI leaders said the ANP-led provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did not stop or create problems for the march. “The provincial government, despite its capacity being overstretched by the militant and extremist threats, was able to ensure security for the marchers and foreign activists,” said Bushra Gohar. “But the rally took a U-turn at the first military checkpost they arrived at,” she added, “which shows this was a drama and they did not intend to go beyond Tank.”

There had been reports that elders of the Mehsud and Burki tribes from South Waziristan had vowed to protect the march, but most elders told the political administration in writing that they could neither protect nor take responsibility for the security of the participants of the rally.

In his speech in Tank, Imran did not criticize the army or the Taliban, focusing entirely on the US, the government, and rival political parties, especially Fazlur Rehman, the head of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. “He did not utter a single word against the Taliban who are involved in brutally killing people, including women and children, attacking security forces and mosques, destroying schools and even flogging women,” said Amjad Shah, a political analyst associated with Gomal University in DI Khan. “If he wants to show solidarity with the people of the tribal areas, he should take up a nobler cause, like the polio-eradication campaign.”

PTI leaders allege the pamphlets against the rally were handed out by JUI-Fazl activists. Imran Khan accused Fazlur Rehman of trying to sabotage the march. “JUI-F is responsible for the social and economic crisis in Pakistan,” he said. “They ran the KP government from 2002 to 2008 and then joined the PPP government after 2008. The crisis we see today is because of the policies of JUI-F – they supported Pervez Musharraf, allowed transport of NATO supplies, and permitted drone strikes from bases in Pakistan,” Abdul Qayyum Kundi said.

A JUI-F leader in FATA said Khan was criticizing his party at the behest of the intelligence agencies, because the party did not join the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. He said the media hype about Imran’s supposed popularity in Pashtun areas was a conspiracy. The PTI was a pro-establishment party, he said, and was being used as a pressure group against parties that believed in democracy.

Political analysts say the JUI-F has widespread support in Southern KP and FATA , and it is considered the only political party in Pakistan that has a strong organizational structure in the volatile tribal areas.

Local political leaders say the PTI rally was not a great achievement. A number of political leaders, including Fazlur Rehman, Afrasyab Khattak, Aftab Sherpao and Amir Muqam, have held rallies in Tank and DI Khan and survived suicide attacks. The JUI-F recently held a political rally in Wana, and National Assembly deputy speaker Faisal Karim Kundi addressed a large gathering in Dera Ismail Khan a day before Imran Khan’s march.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher. Email: and Twitter @zalmayzia