In a flurry of activity that started over the weekend, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) has taken several controversial steps in its bid to stop drone strikes. The party’s leadership believes that blocking NATO supplies will put pressure on the federal government to end the drone program in Pakistan.
The contentious attempt to block NATO supplies, primarily through extrajudicial inspections of truck drivers’ documentation by aggravated party members, has been punctuated by one headline after another. Truck drivers have been pulled from their vehicles, harassed, and in some cases, even roughed up. The police, initially hesitant and uncertain, has now lodged cases against at least 40 individuals for disturbing the peace. Despite claims that the police will allow for peaceful protests but bring to a halt the illegal searches, party workers continued their campaign unabated. At least one incident of aerial firing was reported when police approached a crowd conducting checks.
These actions are reinforced by Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which has staged protests and rallies across Pakistan. Party leader, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Sirajul Haq also presented a letter of condemnation to an official at the US consulate in Peshawar. Meanwhile, PTI’s Pervez Khattak, Chief Minister for the province, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urging him to immediately halt drone strikes.
The pressure continues to build for the federal government.
Dr Shireen Mazari, PTI’s central spokesperson, seems very clear on the ultimate goal of this blockade. She says that the protest will continue “indefinitely till drones stop”. This regurgitation of Khan’s stance may seem ambitious and unremitting, but it fails to identify the legal framework under which to block NATO supplies. It is also worth noting that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is now directly interfering with the constitutional role of the federation, as defense and foreign affairs exclusively fall under the purview of the federal government.
Athar Minullah, senior advocate for Supreme Court, feels that it is absurd that a political party has taken the law into its own hands. “Imran Khan is an agitator, his brinkmanship is going to cause this government a lot of embarrassment. His position is misleading, and there is so much misinformation about NATO and its role.” The ISAF/NATO Placemat from June 24, 2013 identifies at least 28 NATO, and 19 non-NATO nations with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, with troops from several Muslim countries, including Turkey and the UAE. US troops make up about two-thirds of this force.
Brig (r) Mehmood Shah, ex-secretary FATA and ex-secretary Home and Tribal Affairs is less than amused. “This is a federal matter, and the only viable purpose I can see for this demonstration is to embarrass the government.”
Pervez Rashid, the Federal Minister for Information recently gave the government’s stance, saying that Imran Khan was trying to ruin Pakistan’s international relations.
Minallah echoes this. “He is just isolating Pakistan in the international community. It’s disgraceful.”
Routing NATO Supplies
Legally speaking, Pakistan has an responsibility to allow the NATO supply routes unimpeded. “Pakistan as a signatory to the UN Charter and a member state, has an obligation to fulfill,” says Minallah. Right or wrong simply does not factor into it.” When the route started, the FBR also issued a special clearance for NATO supplies, formalizing their passage through Pakistan.
With air shipping prohibitively expensive, NATO forces rely on the significantly cheaper ground transport for non-combat equipment. Supplies are sent through Russia and Central Asian states, or through Pakistan.
Within Pakistan, there are two primary routes, both originating from the port in Karachi. The first goes through Balochistan, passing through Jacobabad and Quetta, crossing into Afghanistan via the Chaman border, and arrives in Kandahar. The second goes through Punjab, then converges in Peshawar, crosses the border at Khyber Pass, and arrives in Kabul.
In the past there have been two incidents when NATO supplies have been blocked by the federal government. The first was in 2010, when a NATO helicopter killed two Pakistani soldiers, resulting in a week-long ban. The second was the Salala incident, almost exactly two years ago, that took the lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan blocked both routes until July 3, 2012, when the US Secretary of State formally apologized for the incident.
Shah feels that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and its leadership are completely disconnected from reality. He thinks that the PTI focuses on what they feel is politically convenient. “I mean just look at the figures, the number of terrorism victims far outnumber the number of drone victims. But this fact is conveniently neglected.” A recent Amnesty International report alleged that over 800 civilians have been killed by drones. Whereas the South Asian Terrorism Portal puts the civilian tally at 18,005 in terrorism related incidents, with 5,449 security force personal lost, since 2003.
Shah is disappointed in PTI’s performance after polls closed in May this year. He feels that “Imran Khan is not satisfied with his position and stature. He is not serious about running Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the shoddy performance of his government proves that.”
Indeed, many political rivals, especially the parties labeled as secular by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (who have lauded the blockade), have spoken out against the PTI, and Imran Khan’s ulterior motives. Many feel that this will only result in voter agitation and alienation.