Imran first to blink as march turns back from the badlands

Former cricketer hails anti-drones protest a success despite being prevented from entering tribal zone

Tank, Pakistan

As the sun set last night, Imran Khan claimed his peace march into Pakistan's most dangerous areas had been a success, despite failing to make it into militant-plagued South Waziristan.

The cricketer-turned-politician led a convoy of several hundred vehicles of supporters and press from Islamabad in a chaotic and gruelling two-day cavalcade that inched its way west across the country.

But the peace protest, which had hoped to reach Kotkai, was forced to turn back just beyond Tank, the last town before South Waziristan, a no-go zone where admission is tightly controlled, after Mr Khan's party received military warnings of "extreme danger" ahead. But Mr Khan could claim success. Thousands turned out to support the march, which had achieved its mission of attracting attention to the bombardment of the tribal belt by American unmanned "drone" aircraft, a clandestine programme run by the CIA that aims to assassinate suspected al-Qa'ida and Taliban militants with precision strikes.

The stunt had also boosted Mr Khan's political credentials, as he gears up for a long-shot at becoming Pakistan's next prime minister. He told his exhausted supporters at a rally that they had been on a journey that neither of the country's two traditional ruling parties could pull off.

"Drones are against all human rights and international law," Mr Khan, wearing an elaborate tribal turban, told about 3,000 supporters. "We wish to give the Americans a message: the more you do your drone attacks, the more people here will hate you". Mr Khan claims that the drones largely kill civilians and the anger this generates drives terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as tribesmen take revenge.

Since the programme started in 2004, the CIA has carried out 334 missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal area. These have reportedly killed between 1,886 and 3,194 people, according to a tally kept by the New America Foundation, a US think tank.

How many of those killed were, in fact, extremists is hotly debated, with some from the tribal area privately insisting that almost all the dead were militants.

Festooned with flags and posters, the convoy was led by a line of Toyota Land Cruisers carrying the top brass of Mr Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds at towns and villages along the way, waving and wanting to catch a glimpse of Mr Khan

"If these drones stopped, this area, Waziristan, would be peaceful," said Kalim Ullah Khan Dawar, one of the marchers from North Waziristan. "I've had to carry out the bodies of dead children myself from the wreckage of strikes."

Adding to the pizzazz of the event was a sprinkling of foreign campaigners, including the British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, and 32 US peace activists, mostly women, from a group called Code Pink. Addressing the rally, Mr Stafford Smith said: "We are your friends. We are here with you to make sure you get justice, to make sure there are no more drones."

Mr Khan may have claimed success yesterday, but his critics remained scathing. In the English-language newspaper Dawn Sunday, Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida called the march "a made-for-TV dog and pony show that will be high on drama and low on substance [that] will resonate with Khan's base". The protest had earlier pushed on despite the seemingly real danger of a suicide bombing by the Pakistani Taliban, withering criticism accusing Mr Khan of appeasing extremists and the government's refusal to give permission to enter South Waziristan, part of the lawless tribal area that borders Afghanistan.

As the convoy attempted to leave Tank for Kotkai, authorities put blockades in front of the marchers. Young activists from Mr Khan's party managed to overturn the shipping containers put in their path. However, that delayed the protesters so much that, as they left Tank for South Waziristan, it was already afternoon and night would be no time to be caught in the tribal area.

Mr Khan said that the military contacted him to warn of a "genuine threat" ahead. That, together with the fading light, convinced him to end the march.

Earlier this week, in threatening tones, the Pakistani Taliban had issued a statement excoriating Mr Khan and the march. It is in the interests of both the military and the Taliban to keep the tribal area beyond the scrutiny of ordinary Pakistanis and the rest of the world. In that, they succeeded.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower