Imran Khan urges Pakistan to speak out over US drone strikes

Imran Khan, Pakistan's cricket legend turned politician, challenged his government to "come clean" on their support of CIA-operated drone strikes during a protest which shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan for two days.

The sit-in in Peshawar, 35 miles from the Afghan border, has blocked a major road used to supply Western forces in the country. The attacks, which routinely target suspected militants in the tribal areas along the border, have become a highly emotive issue in Pakistan, with innocent civilians often mistakenly targeted.

"If the government supports drone strikes, it should come clean and say so," Mr Khan told The Independent. "If, on the other hand, it genuinely opposes them, then it should order the Pakistan Air Force to shoot them down." Since its inception, Pakistan has quietly tolerated drone strikes.

Mr Khan threatened further protests if drone attacks are not stopped within a month. "The government can no longer play on both sides of the wicket," Mr Khan told a crowd of 5,000.

Hostility to the seven-year covert CIA programme has reached fever pitch in recent weeks after Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a rare denunciation of the strike last month, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called for drones to be stopped altogether.

For Washington, the drones hold obvious appeal. They are a pilotless means of eliminating high-level al-Qa'ida and Taliban targets where it cannot deploy troops. Pakistani officials have discreetly cheered as drones slayed some of its most wanted terrorists.

While US and even some Pakistani officials insist that the drones have become more accurate, the Pakistani public is incensed by what is perceived to be a high number of civilian casualties.

In Peshawar yesterday the crowd was overwhelmingly young and male. Many had come from nearby regions of the northwest, while others had travelled from as far as Lahore. They hurled taunts at their "corrupt" and "enslaved" politicians and cheered and waved Mr Khan's party flags as Pashtun pop songs blared over the loudspeakers

"The cause has to move from the parliament to the streets because parliament has been ineffective," said Marvi Memon, an opposition parliamentarian who joined the protests.

For Mr Khan, opposition to drone attacks is the latest attempt at making political inroads. While widely cherished as a national treasure for his sporting success and philanthropic efforts, success at the ballot box has proved elusive. But he hopes growing support among Pakistan's youth, 65 per cent of the population, will alter his Movement for Justice's fortunes.

Sajjad Bangash, 24, says he was drawn to the protest by personal circumstances after three of his cousins died in a drone strike in Kurram.

"More than 40 people were killed, and none of them were militants," he claimed.

"We want change and Imran Khan can bring it," enthused Mr Bangash, a student at Gandahara University.

Critics of Mr Khan say that he is too soft on Islamist militants, preferring to cut peace deals with them rather than confront them with force. They say he denounces the drones with greater force than suicide bombings.

Mr Khan counters that Pakistan's participation in the "war on terror" has only fuelled further extremism, created more terrorists and devastated the local economy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'