Pakistan's opposition politician Imran Khan on Saturday led a convoy of some 500 vehicles including some 30 U.S. activists in an unprecedented march toward Taliban territory to protest CIA-led drone strikes in the country's tribal areas.
Some 3,000 party supporters waved red and green PTI party flags from their cars, beat drums and shouted their support of the cricket star turned politician as he led the so-called peace march into the impoverished west of the country and into the South Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border.
Khan had shrugged off warnings of violence before the convoy left the capital Islamabad. But VOA's Ayaz Gul reports tensions were high on the slow-moving eight-hour car journey to Khan's hometown of Mianwali near Pakistan's tribal areas.
"One could see that Imran Khan himself was pretty nervous, because he was rarely stepping out of his vehicle, even though this convoy was moving at a very slow pace," said Gul.
Khan Leads Drone Protest in Taliban Territory
Analysts said earlier the march was a way of Khan trying to gain political capital as the country readies for national elections in 2013. Reporter Gul says the march may have been a turning point for Khan, who will by vying for power in upcoming vote.
"This is going to bring a lot of attraction to Pakistan, to his political party both locally and internationally, and that is what is going to help raise his political profile," Gul added.
Khan, whose PTI party is most popular with the youth of Pakistan, supports talking with the Taliban. He said before he left that the CIA-coordinated strikes targeting militants were counterproductive.
Khan added that they kill and terrorize innocent civilians, feeding into growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and creating new fighters as a result.
"If you cause human damage, these people will seek revenge, and then the militants will increase," Khan explained.
Some 30 U.S. peace activists with the anti-war group CodePink joined the march. Activist leader Medea Washington said they were trying to show Pakistan that not all Americans agreed with the drone policy.
The so-called peace march was to stop overnight in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan before heading toward the South Waziristan tribal district on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik was in Washington to discuss, among other topics, the issue of drones which Pakistan considers illegal and a violation of its sovereignty.
Washington insists the strikes are an effective weapon against militants operating in Pakistan's northwest.