Pakistan rally halts NATO supplies for Afghanistan

April 25, 2011 - 0:0

PESHAWAR -- The main supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan was closed on Sunday after thousands of people blocked a key highway in Pakistan to protest against U.S. drone strikes, officials said.

The call for blocking the supply line came from cricket-turn-politician Imran Khan after U.S. officials rejected Pakistan’s demand for sharp cuts in drone strikes in its tribal regions.
Activists from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice, PTI), Khan’s party, which is the fastest growing political party in Pakistan, and some other parties staged a sit-in on the highway leading to Afghanistan through the Pashtun tribal region of Khyber.
“It is meant to send a message outside that we oppose drone strikes. We will never accept them,” Asad Qaiser, PTI president in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said.
PTI supporters gathered on the Ring Road for the planned two-day sit-in aiming to block the route used by supply trucks, The Express Tribune reported.
Khan called the demonstration to protest U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas, which many feel infringe on the country’s sovereignty and kill civilians.
Organizers said they expected more than 20,000 people to gather locally for the protest, and many more to arrive in the caravan accompanying Khan. The sit-in will take place at the Bagh-e-Naran Chowk, in the Hayatabad neighborhood of Peshawar.
At a gathering at Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak, Nowshera -- a well-known madrassah -- Khan lashed out against U.S. policies in Afghanistan.
“The U.S. is losing the war -- she can never win it,” said Khan, while addressing the seminary’s students.
The sit-in is the first public mobilization campaign against the continuing drone attacks in the tribal districts of the country, where a relentless campaign by the United States military has killed 1,968 people since 2006, according to The Long War Journal, a website maintained by a Washington-based think tank that keeps track of the U.S. military’s campaign against terrorism.
The PTI chief, with his populist message against the drone strikes, has been welcomed in Nowshera. The party’s posters and banners against the drone strikes were prominently displayed throughout Peshawar.
In his speech at the seminary, Khan also spoke out against the current administration in harsh terms, saying that: “Pakistan rulers have sold its citizens’ blood to the United States and its allies in exchange for dollars.”
“Jihad is mandatory and jihad against oppression and injustice will continue,” Khan said.
Several political parties have announced their support for the rally. Activists from the Jamaat Islami (JI), the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q), the Pakistan Peoples Party Sherpao (PPP-S) have announced their support for the rally, as well as traders and lawyers groups.
The protestors say they will spend the Sunday night at the site. They claim that they have been joined by thousands of people from the tribal districts.
U.S. officials said Friday that they are considering providing unmanned drones to Pakistan for aerial surveillance, despite tensions between the two countries over measures to combat terrorist activity.
NATO supply trucks and oil tankers are the targets of frequent attacks blamed on insurgents attempting to disrupt supplies for more than 130,000 international troops fighting in Afghanistan.
The routes through Pakistan bring in 40 percent of supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to the United States Transportation Command, Reuters reported.
Of the remainder, 40 percent come through Afghanistan’s neighbors in the north and 20 per cent by air. The supply to Afghanistan through Khyber region had been suspended since the protest started on Saturday, a senior provincial government official, Siraj Ahmed, said. The Chaman border crossing in the southwest has remained open to traffic, another official said.
Most supplies and equipment required by coalition troops in Afghanistan are shipped through Pakistan, although U.S. troops increasingly use alternative routes through Central Asia. Additional reporting by AFP
Photo: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan addresses the crowd during a rally against the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas, Saturday, April 23, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan