Protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan postponed

Protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan postponed
Imran Khan, Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Islamabad November 8, 2013. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan accused the United States on Friday of deliberately destroying any chance of meaningful peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban by killing the insurgency's leader in a drone strike a week ago

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Right-wing Pakistani political parties on Sunday postponed a scheduled blockade of NATO supply lines meant to protest the killing of the Taliban chief, citing recent sectarian clashes.

Pakistan reacted angrily earlier this month to a US drone attack that killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, saying the strike had sabotaged peace talks with the insurgents.

Former cricketer Imran Khan, head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, called for a blockade of NATO convoys to Afghanistan to force the US to abandon its drone programme.

Khan had set a November 20 deadline for the halting of drone strikes and threatened to block supply trucks in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his party leads a coalition government.

He announced via Twitter on Sunday the protest would now be held on November 23.

Shabeer Ahmad Khan, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the country’s main religious party, earlier announced the postponement at a joint press conference with the PTI and smaller parties.

Shabeer said that sectarian clashes that occurred in Rawalpindi on Friday were the reason for the delay.

“Drone strikes are attacks on the sovereignty of Pakistan and to protect it some practical steps have to be taken,” he added.

Clashes between the country’s majority Sunnis and minority Shiites saw nine killed and 60 injured in Rawalpindi, a garrison city that borders the capital Islamabad, with the violence rippling out to the country’s south.

It is not clear how Imran Khan would carry out his threat of blockade as authority over highways lies with the federal government.

Islamabad condemns drone strikes as a violation of sovereignty, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged President Barack Obama to end them during recent White House talks.

But analysts say Sharif’s ability to issue demands to Washington are constrained by the fact the US last month agreed to release around $1.6 billion in aid.

In addition, Pakistan has just embarked on a new $6.7 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan package with support from Washington.

Mehsud’s death was the third major blow struck against the Pakistani Taliban by the US this year, following the killing of number two Waliur Rehman in a drone strike in May and the capture of another senior lieutenant in Afghanistan last month.

The group has named hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah its new leader.

He is known for leading the Taliban’s bloody two-year rule in Swat Valley and for ordering the shooting of schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai.

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