This week, Khan, who for two successive years has polled as the nation’s most popular politician, assembled about 35 drone opponents, principally from the U.S. women-led antiwar group Codepink, to join what he calls his “tsunami” for change. Now the question dominating the political dialogue is whether that wave will be allowed to crash into Taliban territory.
The military insists that the decision rests with the civilian leadership, but, in fact, the army controls access to the restive tribal belt, which borders Afghanistan. The debate highlights tensions inherent in Pakistan’s governance: Although the politicians in Parliament and the executive branch have a vote on domestic and foreign policy, the army and its spy services essentially hold veto power.
“This is a peace march. We are not there to pick a fight with anyone,” Khan said in an interview Thursday. “The army, if they think they can’t provide protection beyond a certain point, they’ll tell us that.”
In the past, some analysts have portrayed Khan as a military-backed candidate because of his support for some right-wing Islamists who are considered proxies for Inter-Services Intelligence ISI), the chief spy agency. But as his party, Tehrik-i-Insaaf (Justice Movement), has gained significant popular support, he has been talking more forcefully about reining in the security establishment to make it bow before the constitution.
In the interview at his spacious but simply appointed home outside the capital, he described major political party leaders as “nurtured by military dictators.” Referring to the generals, he said, “They don’t allow natural leadership to come up because they want controllables.”
Khan’s plan is to depart Saturday from Islamabad with a convoy, including foreigners and journalists, to reach the South Waziristan border by nightfall and then head to the rally site about 30 miles farther west.
Local authorities have voiced concern about the march, which Khan’s party predicts will draw 100,000 people. (Previous rallies in Lahore and Karachi drew double that or more.) Pakistan’s seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas are generally off-limits to anyone except the people who live there.