Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) demonstrators dispersed Sunday evening to take a break for the night with an announcement from the party that the protest will be continued tomorrow (Monday) against the missile attacks by the CIA operated US drones inside Pakistan.
On Sunday, the protesters roughed up drivers as they sought to stop trucks carrying NATO troop supplies and equipment from passing through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The rally came a day after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan said his party would prevent NATO supply trucks making their way to and from Afghanistan from travelling through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province until the US stops drone strikes.
The US leads the NATO coalition of troops battling the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Close to 100 protesters on the outskirts of Peshawar checked the documents of truck drivers headed toward Afghanistan as they passed through a toll booth. They shouted at the drivers, and pulled one man, Gul Zaman, out of his truck when he told them that he was carrying commercial goods to Afghanistan, not NATO supplies.
“Without waiting for me to take my documents out of the glove compartment, they dragged me out,” Zaman said. “We are also concerned about drone attacks, but they shouldn’t come down heavy on us like this.”
“They are doing unlawful acts,” said Faiz Muhammad Khan, a truck driver transporting sanitary items to Afghanistan who was stopped by the vigilantes. “They broke the sealing of my container and forcibly examined the goods. If they want to block supplies for NATO forces, they should stop [them] in Karachi or at the border.”
One of the vigilantes, 28-year-old Asghar Khalil, said the PTI activists were merely heeding their leader Khan’s call to action and would not stop until drone strikes end.
Police were present at the scene but did not intervene to stop the protesters, some of whom were carrying wooden batons.
Muhammad Faisal, a senior police official, said the vigilante actions were illegal, but he was powerless to act. “The protesters are doing unlawful acts by checking documents and screening goods, they don’t have authority. But we can’t take action against them because we have no instructions from the government. If the government orders us, we will stop this illegal activity.”
Late on Sunday night, KP IG Nasir Burrani ordered the Hayatabad Police Station to register a case against the people involved in torturing the truck drivers. He said the police would facilitate peaceful protests but violence would not be tolerated.
Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party controls the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, has been a vocal critic of drone attacks. He and other officials say the strikes are a violation of the country’s sovereignty, although the federal government is known to have secretly supported some of the attacks in the past.
Khan led thousands of supporters in a protest near Peshawar on Saturday in which they blocked a road that led to one of two border crossings used by trucks carrying NATO supplies in and out of Afghanistan.
The other crossing is in Balochistan province.
The demonstration had more symbolic value than practical impact because there is normally very little NATO supply traffic on the weekend.