Pakistani tribesmen rally against US drone strikes

Shop owners, students and other residents shouted anti-American slogans.

Miran Shah: Some 2,000 Pakistanis in a tribal region pummelled by US missile strikes demonstrated on Friday under the watchful eye of Taliban fighters, calling for an end to the attacks and the arrest of the US officials behind them.

The covert, CIA-run missile program is a source of deep resentment in Pakistan, where many believe large numbers of civilians are killed and maimed in the drone-fired strikes. US officials insist the strikes are precise and kill primarily Taliban and al Qaeda militants hiding along the Afghan border.

Friday`s demonstration occurred in North Waziristan, the target of nearly all the US missiles. The northwest tribal region is home to several militant groups focused on attacking US and NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Shop owners, students and other residents shouted anti-American slogans, and called for US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the former CIA station chief in Islamabad be brought to justice. "They should be arrested and punished by the courts in America," said Abdul Khan, a student leader.

Around 150 armed Taliban militants watched the rally in North Waziristan`s main town of Miran Shah. It was not immediately clear whether they had helped organise it.

Pakistan officially protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but Pakistani security agencies are believed to secretly cooperate with the program. Last year, the US fired around 115 missile strikes into Pakistan in a major escalation of the campaign.

One reason the US has targeted North Waziristan may be because Pakistan`s military has held off on staging an offensive in the rugged, lawless region. Pakistani military commanders say that`s because the army is too stretched fighting militant groups elsewhere. But some analysts believe that Pakistan wants to avoid upsetting militant groups in North Waziristan that it may view as future allies against India once the US leaves the region.

In Pakistan`s southwest on Friday, gunmen torched two tankers carrying fuel for US and NATO forces, wounding two drivers.

Police official Abdul Zahoor says one tanker was attacked in the Qilat area of Baluchistan province, where gunmen over the weekend burned 14 NATO tankers. The other tanker was hit in the Mastung area.

Militants and criminals in Pakistan frequently attack trucks carrying supplies for US and NATO troops. The supplies first arrive in Pakistan`s southern port city of Karachi and from there they travel overland to Afghanistan.

The US is relying more on other routes, including through Central Asia, due to security concerns in Pakistan.

Bureau Report