A convoy of thousands of Pakistani protesters and a small but dedicated contingent of American and British anti-war activists calling for an end to U.S. drone strikes was blocked by the Pakistani military on Sunday from entering a lawless tribal region on the border with Afghanistan.
Led by opposition politician and former cricket star Imran Khan, the event dubbed a «peace march» drew about 30 activists from U.S. anti-war group CODEPINK, and a handful more from the British group Reprieve.
The protest convoy was blocked by Pakistani police at least four times during the day-long journey from the northern city of Dera Ismail Khan to the border of South Waziristan – a lawless tribal region where some of the drone strikes have taken place.
After the unscheduled turnaround, the protesters regrouped near Tank – the last large city before South Waziristan – where CBS News witnessed them push a truck hitched to a large cargo container out of the way to clear the road as helpless policemen watched nearby.
Khan told his supporters in Tank that the Pakistani army had turned them away at the border of South Waziristan over concerns that they might be attacked by militants under the cover of darkness later Sunday evening.
«We want to give a message to America, that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you,» Khan told his supporters gathered in Tank.
His remarks immediately sparked cries of «Down with America» and «A friend of America is the traitor of the nation,» from spectators gathered on the dusty terrain about 30 minutes drive from the South Waziristan border.
The American protesters were not seen at this gathering, but Clive Stafford Smith, a prominent American-British lawyer and human rights activist who coordinated British involvement in the protest, addressed the crowd briefly alongside Khan.
«I apologize as an American. Until America sees your children as they see my children, we will never get justice in the world.»
«We are here with you to make sure you get justice and to make sure there are no more drones,» he added amid enthusiastic applause. His remarks triggered a chant of «no more drones» from the audience.
The drone strikes, which are never confirmed by the U.S. government but widely known to be the work of the CIA, have helped to debilitate al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, and Western officials say they help keep pressure on militants in the area.
Americans protest drone strikes in Pakistan
Organizers of the diverted «peace march» argue, however, that the strikes are terrorizing the 800,000-odd innocent residents of North and South Waziristan who are not linked to Islamic extremist militants. They also say the strikes are illegal under international law and are serving as valuable propaganda tools for the very militant groups they target – creating new enemies faster than the old ones can be killed, according to CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin.
Backing claims by the protest organizers that residents of Waziristan are subject to undue anxiety from the drones flying overhead, Abdul Haleem Mehsud, a truck driver whose 11-year-old nephew was injured in an alleged 2009 drone strike, told CBS News during the Sunday rally in Tank that, «Since the attack on my cousin’s home, I have lived with a terrible sense of insecurity.»
Senior members of Khan’s PTI party said before the march that they hoped U.S. and British activists would return home and spread their anti-drone message after their visit to Pakistan.
The organizers of the protest may have been diverted from their intended target in Pakistan, but they will still be hoping to reach their intended targets thousands of miles away: American voters who elect the people that order the strikes in the first place.