23 April 2011
Supporters of cricket hero-turned-politician Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party were gathering on the Peshawar ring road Saturday for the planned two-day sit-in aiming to block the route used by supply trucks.
The party called the demonstration to protest over US missile attacks from unmanned aircraft in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, which many feel infringe on Pakistani sovereignty and which locals say sometimes kill civilians.
"They (the US) are losing the war -- they can never win it," Khan told a gathering in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak on his way to the protest site in the Bagh-e-Naran neighbourhood.
"The sit-in will start today and will end tomorrow," he added.
The administration in Peshawar said the NATO trucking service had been halted for three days, and the vehicles ordered to park in other cities on the route from Friday.
Organisers said they expected more than 20,000 people to gather locally for the protest, and many more to arrive in the caravan accompanying Khan.
In an article in Pakistan's The News, Khan said that "today we Pakistanis of all shades and convictions need to come together to support our FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) brethren and protest their killing and displacement.
"It is not enough to simply issue statements against US policies and drone killings; we need to act so that the voice of the people becomes a force for the rulers to reckon with," he said.
Banners on Peshawar's main road bore the message "Stop drone attacks on innocent tribal people," and images of crossed-out drone aircraft, while posters of Khan and his party dotted the city.
Covert missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's lawless border regions, believed to operate with the tacit consent of Islamabad, stoke rampant anti-American sentiment throughout the South Asian nation.
Public anger rose amid a diplomatic furore between the two nations over a drone attack on March 17, which killed 39 people including civilians.
US officials said Friday that the global superpower was 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.
Most supplies and equipment required by coalition troops in Afghanistan are shipped through Pakistan, although US troops increasingly use alternative routes through central Asia.
Two truck drivers have been killed this week by militants in revenge
for transporting goods for NATO.