Imran Khan: former Pakistan PM shot and injured at rally

Former PM was leading a protest march to the capital to demand snap elections

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Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan was shot and injured as he led an anti-government march towards Islamabad on Thursday in what his supporters say was an “assassination attempt”.

Mr Khan was on day six of the protest procession heading for the capital, waving to thousands of cheering supporters from the roof of a vehicle, when the shots rang out.

The gunman opened fire on the convoy of vehicles carrying Mr Khan and party officials.

The attack in the Gujranwala district of Punjab left one dead and fourteen wounded, including other senior officials in Mr Khan’s PTI party who were accompanying him on his protest march.

A video shared online shows an armed man being wrestled to the ground by a member of the crowd.

“This was an attempt to kill him, to assassinate him,” Raoof Hasan, a senior Khan aide, told AFP.

The entire leadership of Mr Khan's party would have been “wiped out” if the gunman had not been stopped by the crowd, representative Fawad Chaudhry told Reuters.

The former prime minister was wounded in the leg and taken to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital for surgery to remove bullet fragments, but his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

Senior party member and former governor Sindh Imran Ismail confirmed that Mr Khan was injured by a bullet but was out of danger.

Political violence has rocked Pakistan for decades. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 after holding an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi.

A Punjab Police representative said that the suspected gunman was arrested at the scene and released a video showing him admitting to the attack and saying he intended to kill Mr Khan because he said the ex-prime minister had misled the public.

Mr Khan was removed from power by a parliament vote of no confidence in April.

“I couldn’t bear watching it, so I attempted to kill him,” the man in the video says.

He said that he had planned the attack since Mr Khan left Lahore in October but had not intended to hurt anyone else.

Sheikh Ishfaq was on the scene at the time of the attack and told The National that he saw people scatter as soon as they heard gunshots.

“We were about 40 metres ahead of Imran Khan’s container truck [when] a sudden burst of fire was heard,” he explained. “In response, people on the top of the truck got down immediately and the public scattered. Meanwhile, shots from the security guards present on the van also fired [in the air].”

He said the crowd reacted angrily to news that Mr Khan had been injured.

There were reports of people taking to the streets in a number of regions of Pakistan after the attack to condemn the incident and show support for the ex-prime minister.

Senior party member Abrar Ul Haq condemned the attack and said that the incident had not changed their aims.

“We were standing with our leader yesterday, we are standing with our leader today and we will be standing with our leader tomorrow,” he told The National.

'Critical moment'

The apparent attempt on Mr Khan's life is a critical and "potentially explosive moment" for Pakistan, an expert has told The National.

"Pakistan’s political environment has been hyperpolarized and supercharged for months. And Khan is arguably the most popular political figure in the country right now," said Michel Kugelman, director of The Wilson Institute's South Asia Centre.

"For him to be targeted in an apparent assassination attempt-this is a red line for his support base. This is a critical and potentially explosive moment for Pakistani politics, and the country on the whole."

Mr Chaudhry, former minister of information and broadcasting, claimed that the attack was pre-planned.

“It was a well-planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan, the assassin planned to kill Imran Khan and the leadership of PTI. It was not 9mm [bullets], it was a burst from an automatic weapon. No two opinions about it, it was a narrow escape,” he tweeted.

On Thursday evening, party official Asad Umar said that Mr Khan held Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Army Intelligence head Faisal Naseer responsible. He called for their resignation to avoid larger protests.

“I condemn the incident of firing on the PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the strongest words. I have directed the interior minister for an immediate report on the incident. I pray for the recovery and health of the PTI chairman and other injured people,” Mr Sharif said.

“The federal government will extend all support necessary to the Punjab government for security and investigation. Violence should have no place in our country’s politics.”

Supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan shout slogans during a protest after he suffered bullet injuries near Wazirabad, EPA

The inter-service public relations media arm of Pakistan's armed forces denounced the attack and wished all those wounded a speedy recovery.

The International Human Rights Commission called for a transparent investigation into the attack, saying that “all parties have the right to hold peaceful assemblies and to expect security from the state when doing so”.

Voted into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform, Mr Khan’s handling of the economy and a fallout with the military led to his downfall.

He has claimed that his fall from power was engineered by the US and his successor Mr Sharif ― allegations Washington and the prime minister have denied.

His supporters recently held protests after Pakistan's top election tribunal found him guilty of unlawfully selling gifts received from foreign dignitaries and heads of state, barring him from holding public office for five years.

He has since challenged the ruling.

Mr Khan has repeatedly told supporters he was prepared to die for his country and aides have long warned of unspecified threats made on his life.

However, Ikram Kathana, the PTI social media team member for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, told The National that Mr Khan was a red line for supporters.

“We strongly condemn the attack on Imran Khan and demand a fair investigation into the attack,” he said. “We will not keep silent and are waiting for further instruction from the senior party members.”

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 04, 2022, 5:32 AM
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