Religious parties protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Activists from right-wing religious parties led protests in many parts of Pakistan on Friday to denounce a US drone strike that killed the commander of the militant Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last week.

Pakistan last week reacted angrily to the drone attack that killed the TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud in the North Waziristan tribal area.

The government said the strike had destroyed efforts to begin talks to end the TTP’s bloody six-year insurgency that has left thousands of soldiers, police and civilians dead.

The interior minister had accused Washington of sabotaging peace efforts. Former cricketer Imran Khan, head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which is in power in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, called for a blockade of Nato convoys to Afghanistan.

Around 1,200 supporters of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) religious party staged a protest sit-in on Friday, blocking a NATO supply route in Peshawar, police and an AFP reporter said.

Mohammad Ismail, a senior police officer in Peshawar said the road would reopen soon.

“It is temporary due to the protest rally, supplies will re-open on Saturday,” Ismail told AFP.

Pakistan is a key transit route for the US-led mission in landlocked Afghanistan, particularly as NATO forces withdraw by the end of next year. Many of the trucks now are actually removing NATO equipment after 12 years of war.

“Block NATO supply, stop drone attack,” read one banner at the rally. Protesters carrying placards and party flags were shouting anti-US slogans, an AFP reporter said.

Lahore Protest

In Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore, more than 200 activists of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charity organisation led by Hafiz Saeed who carries a bounty on his head by the United States, gathered outside the press club and chanted slogans against the US.

Karachi Protest

JuD also held a small protest rally in Karachi, the port city from where Nato and US goods and equipment are loaded on to, and off trucks for Afghanistan.

“America does not want a peaceful Pakistan, it is against peace talks, government should shoot down US drones,” Shabeer Ahmad Khan, a JI leader told the gathering in Peshawar.

Khan has set a November 20 deadline for the halting of drone strikes and threatened to block Nato convoys in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where PTI leads the coalition government.

But it is not clear how he would carry out such a blockade as authority over highways lies with the federal government.

Islamabad condemns drone strikes as a violation of sovereignty, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged President Barack Obama to end them during White House talks last week.

But analysts say Sharif’s ability to issue demands to Washington are constrained by the fact the US last month agreed to release around $1.6 billion in aid.

In addition, Pakistan has just embarked on a new $6.7 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan package with support from Washington.

Mehsud’s death last Friday was the third major blow struck against the TTP by the US this year, following the killing of number two Waliur Rehman in a drone strike in May and the capture of another senior lieutenant in Afghanistan last month.

On Thursday, the TTP named its new leader as hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah, known for leading the Taliban’s bloody two-year rule in Swat Valley and for links to the shooting of schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai.

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