Pakistani security forces have turned back protesters led by cricket star turned politician Imran Khan at the border of a volatile tribal region.
Khan, the leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, had planned to lead a convoy of activists protesting against US drone strikes into South Waziristan.
But soldiers blocked the road into the region and stopped the motorcade at the border, sending thousands of participants back to the Tank district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
PTI workers said Khan’s vehicle was confiscated, and one source said he was briefly held by security personnel before being released.
Party activist Bashir Ahmad said: “Imran Khan’s vehicle was leading a motorcade of peace march towards his last destination, Kotkai in South Waziristan, after crossing over several barricades set up by the government to stop them from proceeding towards Waziristan.
“The security forces took him into custody and later freed and returned all participants of the peace march to Tank.”
The security forces took him into custody and later freed and returned all participants of the peace march to Tank. Bashir Ahmad
Senior PTI leader and former prime minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi said the military officials stopped them to inform that the road towards Kotkai is dilapidated and it would be better for them to go back.
“We decided to peacefully return and organise rally in Tank,” the party leader said.
A senior official of Tank police said they received orders from high ups to stop the PTI activists from proceeding towards Waziristan, but he said they failed to make it happen as they were in thousands.
Khan said he wanted to stage a mass demonstration against US drone strikes in the tribal areas, despite threats of Taliban suicide bomb attacks.
The former Pakistan cricket captain has criticized the Pakistani government’s co-operation with Washington in the fight against Islamist militants.
He has been especially outspoken against strikes from unmanned drones targeting militants and has argued that the country’s alliance with Washington is the main reason Pakistan is facing a homegrown Taliban insurgency.
The main faction of the Pakistani Taliban, which is based in South Waziristan, issued a statement on Friday calling Khan a “slave of the West” and saying that the militants “don’t need any sympathy” from such “a secular and liberal person.”