Anti-Drone Protesters Set off on Historical March in Pakistan, Despite Threats
Anti-drone peace protesters from the United States, Pakistan and around the world set off from Pakistan’s Islamabad on Saturday, at the start of a two day march heading into South Waziristan, a region in Pakistan heavily bombarded with US drones.
The march, organized by former cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, formed a long vehicle convoy, including hundreds of Pakistanis and dozens of US activists represented by the anti-war group CODEPINK.
The group plans to march to the edge of Pakistan’s tribal belt on Saturday and then head to the village of Kotkai in South Waziristan to hold a demonstration on Sunday.
According to CODEPINK, rumors continue to circulate that local militants are planning to attack the march, and the US embassy has said that it cannot guarantee that drones will not strike during the march, but the group decided to forge on anyway, expressing the importance of protesting the murder of innocent civilians by US drones in the region.
When asked about the serious security risks, Dianne Budd, a medical doctor from San Francisco, and CODEPINK activists answered, “Of course I’m concerned about our security, but I am even more concerned about the security of the people of Waziristan who face constant threats and terror from the drones flying above their heads twenty-four hours a day.”
Khan has continued to emphasize that he has been assured by South Waziristan tribal leaders that the march would not be attacked.
“A huge welcome is awaiting us,” Khan said before the vehicle caravan began its journey. “The government is making efforts to sabotage the march because it fears the support we will get from the people.”
Khan, however, added that the prospect of entering the tribal area might not be possible, and that the marchers would hold their rally wherever they may have to stop.
“This is a peace march, an effort for peace in Pakistan on our part … We are not going to fight anyone,” Khan said as he launched the motorcade, which had around 150 vehicles, from Islamabad.
Khan has maintained that he expects some 100,000 to join the rally.
Leaving with the caravan of protesters, Shahzad Ahmed, a 19-year-old college student told Associated Press, “This is the convoy of peace and that is why am in it. Imran Khan is leading us to peace and peace is the key to stability in the country.”
“It feels great. I’m hoping that what it will show is that the Pakistani people and American people and even the people in the tribal areas want peace,” said Joe Lombardo, a representative of the U.S. group.
James Ricks, another U.S. activist, said he was going along with the convoy despite the danger. “I am taking this risk because my government is committing international war crimes and we want to stop this,” he said.
“We also feel this march will put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are,” said CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin. “We will continue to find ways to protest these barbaric assassinations until they finally end,” she added.