Former Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan vowed to permanently block a supply route to U.S. forces in Afghanistan starting tomorrow as he seeks an end to drone strikes in the country’s northwest, where his party holds power.
A U.S. drone attack yesterday killed six people at an Islamic seminary in the Tal area of Hangu district in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province near Afghanistan, Deputy Commissioner Ahmed Jan said by telephone. All those killed were Afghans, he said.
U.S. drones have usually targeted the lawless tribal belt closer to the Afghan border, making the latest attack unusual. The strike inflamed Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which announced the plan to shut a key supply route for foreign troops in Afghanistan earlier this month after a drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, disrupting peace talks.
“We will announce at the protest on Saturday that we will permanently block the supply route until they stop drone attacks,” Khan said yesterday in a televised press conference. “If it’s in our hands, we will block it today. Our powers are that we can tell them that NATO supplies can’t pass through our province.”
Pakistan’s government “strongly condemns” yesterday’s drone strike as a violation of the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement from Islamabad. “There is an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end.”
Khan’s protest sets up a clash with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s six-month-old government, according to Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based independent security analyst who formerly taught at Columbia University in New York.
“This is going to be the first time that any provincial government is going to openly challenge the policy of the central government,” he said. “It will create more chaos in domestic politics and isolate Pakistan at the international level.”
The latest attack has made tomorrow’s protest “even more imperative,” said Shireen Mazari, central information secretary of Khan’s PTI, which emerged as the third-largest political party in this year’s general elections, which won by Sharif’s party. Pakistan’s constitution gives the central government authority over provincial administrations in defense and foreign policy.
“The attack in Hangu means that the Americans have declared war against all of Pakistan,” Mazari said. “We want to ask whether our government and military were sleeping while Pakistan was attacked or are they complicit in these attacks?”
Pakistan agreed to open supply routes for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last year after closing them in 2011 following a U.S. military strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops. The accord permits U.S.-led forces to ship non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan until 2015 through two routes: One in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the other in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Any prolonged disruption of the key route in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa could inhibit the U.S.’s ability to remove troops, weapons and equipment as part of the plan to withdraw most of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“Current reports state, that this protest will be largely symbolic and likely not last more than one day,” the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force joint command said in an e-mailed message yesterday. “It should have minimal to no impact on ISAF’s supply mission.”
The latest drone strike risks further inflaming anti-U.S. public sentiment in Pakistan, where such attacks are seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and have strained ties between the government and the Obama administration.
After a Nov. 1 drone attack that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistan government said it would review “every aspect” of cooperation with the Obama administration.
While the U.S. trumpeted the death of Mehsud, indicted in the U.S. three years ago for his alleged role in a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009, Pakistan said it scuttled efforts to bring militants to the negotiating table to end more than a decade of violence.
The U.S. conveyed to Pakistan after Mehsud’s death that there would be no drone attacks on Taliban militants while they were talking to the Pakistan government, Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s adviser on security and foreign affairs, was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel on Nov. 20, the News reported yesterday.
Yesterday’s drone strike killed several people including children, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement today. Pakistan has conveyed its concern to the U.S. Ambassador, “adding that this has deeply disturbed the people of Pakistan.”