ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — For years, American officials have tried to persuade Pakistan’s military chiefs and prime ministers to cooperate with U.S.-led war plans in neighboring Afghanistan.
But now it is a politician in a far-flung province who is standing in the way.
Angered by U.S. drone strikes, Imran Khan has effectively halted NATO convoys through northwest Pakistan, a vital crossing point for trucks carrying supplies to and from landlocked Afghanistan.
Khan, an Oxford-educated millionaire and former cricket star, has no real power in the national government. But his party controls the local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which NATO convoys must pass through to reach the northern border crossing.
After U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan this fall, the 61-year-old politician called on his supporters to block the transit routes in protest. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has appeared powerless to stop him.
With Sharif and Pakistan’s military vowing that the supply routes must remain open, Khan’s campaign is a remarkable show of defiance in a country that has been under military rule for more than half of its 67-year history.
A self-described liberal pacifist who became more attuned to his Muslim faith after his globe-trotting cricket career ended, Khan shows no sign of backing down. He says that although U.S. drone strikes may be aimed at violent militants, many wind up killing innocent civilians and fuel terrorism by angering the local population.