Amid advisories from the government and threats of dire consequences from terrorists, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan set off for South Waziristan from Islamabad on Saturday morning along with party workers and anti-drone activists from home and abroad to train the spotlight on the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
By evening, the motorcade of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had reached Dera Ismail Khan as per schedule. After a night’s halt at D. I. Khan, the entourage is slated to head for Kotkai in South Waziristan on Sunday though there was no clarity on whether the local administration would allow them to go that far into the tribal agency.
According to PTI office-bearers, they would hold their public meeting wherever the local administration stopped them though the plan as of now is to go right up to Kotkai so that the media – which otherwise has no access to the tribal agencies – can see first hand the human side of the drone campaign.
Security has been a prime concern; particularly as many foreigners – including anti-drone activists from Code Pink and Reprieve U.K. -- are accompanying Mr. Khan on this `peace march’. Mr. Khan, himself, has said that he would hold President Asif Ali Zardari personally responsible if any incident takes place along the way; adding that the federal government was creating problems for this peace initiative.
He accused the federal government of trying to sabotage his initiative by spreading canards of suicide bombers being assigned to attack the peace activists. All week, there have been conflicting reports regarding the Taliban offering security to Mr. Khan’s programme but on Friday the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan said no security cover had been offered to the PTI or its leader whom they described as a ``secular and liberal person’’.
Stating that the Taliban had never said it would attack the peace activists nor provide security, Mr. Khan – who has often been referred to as `Taliban Khan’ and `Talib in jeans’ for his opposition to the U.S. war on terror – said the tribals had offered the security cover.
Though billed as a `peace march’, the journey was primarily conducted on wheels; earning the PTI considerable amount of jibes online with bloggers and Twitterati describing it as Mr. Khan’s ``long drive’’. The cricketer-turned-politician, himself, was tweeting all the way; maintaining that people were turning up in large numbers.
As the motorcade set off from Islamabad, the upwardly mobile urban elite profile of PTI was in evidence as most of the vehicles were high-end SUVs and sedans. Along the way, people lined up as the cavalcade passed through their towns and villages including Mr. Khan’s native place, Mianwali; some to witness and others to participate in the political exercise of a man promising change.