Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan leads anti-drone protesters in blockade of key Nato supply line

Thousands rally in Peshawar, amid fears the CIA will aim unmanned anti-Taliban strikes deeper into Pakistani territory

Peshawar

They came to Peshawar in their thousands from regions across Pakistan, united by a shared opposition to CIA drone strikes that are claimed to have killed innocent men, women and children. And yesterday, led by the cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, protesters began a blockage of a key Nato supply route.

To the thumping soundtrack of Pakistani pop, played from large speakers mounted on the back of trucks, some 7,000 to 10,000 protesters gathered along a two-lane road near where the Grand Trunk Road begins. The road runs from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Calcutta, India, and is a key Nato supply line for troops across the region.

“Until drone strikes are stopped, we won’t stop our protest,” Mr Khan told the enthusiastic crowd, who were waving the red and green flags of his party, which runs the north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The party has led a furious chorus of opposition to the CIA’s recent drone strikes which Mr Khan claims have derailed attempts to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike at his compound in North Waziristan. And last week, a senior leader of the Haqqani network was killed in a rare strike in Hangu district, an area outside Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“We were going towards peace,” Mr Khan bellowed. “The Taliban was ready to negotiate with a political government for the first time. The drone didn’t just kill Hakimullah Mehsud, it killed our peace process.” Mehsud had been a brutal leader of the Pakistani Taliban since 2009. Under his command, the militant group had slain hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and launched near-daily suicide bombings.

Mr Khan’s stance has been backed by the federal government in Islamabad, with Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan leading a heightened pitch of anti-Americanism. But the government has stopped short of lending its support to Mr Khan’s attempt to halt Nato supplies.

Critics of Mr Khan accuse him of being soft on the Taliban, reacting furiously to drone strikes but remaining insistent on negotiations with the militants even as they continue to mount terrorist attacks.

Mr Khan, his critics say, only reacts to CIA drone strikes, but has not led protests against the Taliban and other militant groups’ bombings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province since his party came to power there.

Meanwhile, news of another drone strike in Hangu district on Thursday triggered particular anger. It was only the second such strike outside the tribal areas along the border, sparking fears that the CIA may fire drones deeper into Pakistani territory.

The Hangu drone strike targeted a compound belonging to the Haqqani network, a group of Afghan insurgents that is seen by the US as its most potent enemy in Afghanistan, responsible for devastating attacks on US troops and the US Embassy in Kabul.

Saeedullah Khan, 40, an activist from Mr Khan’s party who travelled from Lower Dir to join the protest, said: “This drone strike was an attack on us, on our provincial government. It was an attack on our territory, not the tribal areas. Who knows where the next drone will strike?”

The vast majority of the mostly young and almost exclusively male protesters had come from other parts of the north-west, but party members from afar as Lahore, Islamabad and southern Punjab augmented their ranks. Mir Faraz, a 24-year-old student, said he had travelled from Miranshah in the North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border, said. “We want peace in North Waziristan. That’s why I am here.”

Mr Faraz said that he and other natives of North Waziristan are wearied by the constant buzzing of drones in their areas and the destruction they wreak. “They kill some Taliban, but they also kill innocent people,” he added. “I have seen them strike houses and cars.”

The debate over the CIA’s use of drones has been heightened by reports from Amnesty International and UN rapporteurs that have said that more civilians are killed than the US publicly acknowledges. Amnesty accused the CIA of being responsible for “war crimes” just last month.

Mr Khan has said that the blockade will endure until drones stop. “We will have protests across the country until America stops its drones,” he boomed from the stage yesterday. But it is unclear how long the activists will be able to sustain the protests. After the speeches, the crowds swiftly began to thin, abandoning the rows of chairs that had been laid out.

But some activists remained confident of their chances. Muhammad Asghar Jan, a 30-year-old software engineer from Islamabad, said: “We will stay here for as long as it takes.”

Another, Adnan Malik, also 30, said it was up to Mr Khan. “Whatever Khan says, we’ll just close our eyes and follow.”

Voices
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.
voices
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
weird newsMan live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
Sport
Oliver Giroud kisses the Arsenal badge after giving the Gunners the lead
sportArsenal 3 West Ham 1: Two goals from the German striker and one piece of brilliance from Giroud puts the Gunners back above Everton
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
weird news
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
filmAs 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star James Dean perfected his moody act
News
Obesity surgery in rats has been found to change the way the body processes alcohol
news
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
artThe Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
Life & Style
US Airways has been at the centre of a Twitter storm after it responded to customer complaints with a graphic sexual image
techUS Airways takes an interesting approach to customer service
Arts & Entertainment
Philip Arditti as Yossarian and Christopher Price as Milo Minderbinder in Northern Stage's 'Catch-22'
theatre
Arts & Entertainment
The Purple Wedding: Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell tie the knot
TV The second episode of the hit series featured a surprise for viewers
Life & Style
Back to nature: women with body issues have found naked yoga sessions therapeutic
lifeDoing poses in the altogether is already big in the US, and now it’s landed here – in mixed classes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Move from Audit to Advisory

£45000 per annum + benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Move from Audit to Advisor...

Management Consultancy - Operational Research Analysts

£35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...

Secondary Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This outstanding Secondary School...

Application Support Analyst (MS SQL, java based webserver, batch scripting)

£36000 - £40000 Per Annum On call allowance.: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?