Rising political star Imran Khan and hundreds of peace activists have begun their trek to Pakistan's tribal regions to protest the US drone war in the area. The Pakistani Taliban has condemned the march.
The peace caravan set off from the capital Islamabad on Saturday, in a two-day journey to the militant stronghold of South Waziristan, where the activists plan to protest against the US drone war in Pakistan.
Khan, an opposition politician and former cricket star, is leading the demonstration. Dozens of Western anti-war activists from the American group Code Pink and the British legal lobby organization Reprieve are also participating.
"The collateral damage - people's women and children getting killed - have created militants and multiplied militants," Khan said.
"This is the only time ever in history that a country has been bombed by its own ally," he claimed.
US President Barack Obama has escalated Washington's remote-controlled drone war in Pakistan, in a bid to deny Islamist militants a sanctuary in the semi-autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border.
The Pakistani government has publicly condemned the drone strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and a source of anti-American sentiment.
A recent report by Reprieve, Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law estimates that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed in the drone war. Total casualties from June 2004 to September 2012 range from 2,562 to 3,325.
Local support uncertain
Khan, head of the Movement for Justice party (PTI), has been a critic of the US-led war on terrorism. He is a rising star in Pakistan's political scene, challenging feudal and industrial elites.
The opposition politician plans to drive to the edge of the tribal belt on Saturday and then head to the village of Kotkai in South Waziristan to hold a demonstration on Sunday. Although the government has warned of Taliban attacks, Khan has said that the local tribes support the peace march.
"A huge welcome is awaiting us," Khan said before the vehicle caravan began its journey. "The government is making efforts to sabotage the march because it fears the support we will get from the people."
But the Pakistani Taliban have condemned the march as political stunt, and rejected Khan as a "secular and liberal person."
"Imran Khan's so-called peace march is not in sympathy of drone-hit Muslims, instead it is a try by him to increase his political stature," Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said on Friday. "Our mujahedeen are not so priceless that we deploy them to protect a westernized and secular personality."
slk/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)