Tuesday 2 October 2012

Peace activists denied access to Pakistan march

UK Peace activist and filmmaker Carol Grayson has been denied a visa to take part in a peace march in Pakistan aimed at highlighting the use of drones by the US military.
Grayson and another filmmaker, Yacine Helali, were invited to take part in the protest by Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) is organising the motorcade to South Waziristan later this week.
Grayson told the Lahore Times: “Officially I am being told no one can guarantee my security, but surely that is the case for Pakistanis also. They have to live with risks every day, they have no choice. I am told that Waziristan is a “no-go” area and that there is a lengthy process and many hurdles to overcome if you want to film a documentary as we do. I understand this would be under the eye of a government “minder”. This may put people off from being interviewed. I think that there are other reasons, the fact that PTI have invited me to participate in the peace march and are gaining significant support in the run up to the elections. That might be threatening for some who fear change in Pakistan. I have also nurtured strong contacts in the Tribal Areas; there is mutual respect and support for one another as human beings trying to make a difference. These people are my friends; I am not a native person. I have spent time trying to understand the politics of the region; it is not so easy to pull the wool over my eyes. I have a good idea what is happening on the ground and have excellent sources for information that continue to enlighten and educate me.”
In a statement the PTI "condemned this act of stopping the international media to come to Pakistan for a cause which is in the interest of Pakistan,”.
However, a delegation of 30 US activists and parents of US Army soldiers has arrived in Islamabad, where they plan to join the march and rally which Imran Khan has predicted will involve up to 100,000 people. Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel and former US ambassador, is leading the delegation. Wright resigned from the US army at the beginning of the war against Iraq in 2003. She is now an anti-war activist and a member of CODEPINK.
On Sunday afternoon, Wright told a press conference in Islamabad that "We came from the US for this historic march against drone attacks. We also went to the places in US from where the drones are operated and we registered our protest. We are also protesting US war policies and we are telling you that American people are also against these attacks," she said.
Ann Wright and Imran Khan speak at a press conference in Islamabad
She added that the US is violating the sovereignty of Pakistan by carrying out drone strikes. "The U.S. president has a hit list on his desk and he looks at it every day to know who will be killed in Pakistan. This is criminal... We believe that travel warning is issued because the US government does not want us to see what they are doing. We believe the President of the US is killing innocent people in Pakistan that is wrong... We as Americans stand up against our government and you [have to] stand up against yours," Wright said.
There are still some doubts about whether or not the march will take place. The Pakistan Taliban, which initially opposed the march, now says it will protect it. But military commanders and politicians are jittery and may yet try to stop it.
Starting from Islamabad, the march is due to pass through Balkasar, Talagang and Mianwali, reaching DI Khan on 6 October. On 7 October the participants will gather in Tank and then will move towards South Waziristan where a public meeting will be held at Kot Kai. According to Imran Khan, the Mahsud, Burki and Bhittani tribes of Waziristan have agreed to provide security to the participants of the rally.

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