Pakistan is descending into chaos after an assassination attempt on former prime minister Imran Khan in Wazirabad, about 190 kilometers from Islamabad. Khan’s container came under fire in extremely questionable circumstances. The bloody drama started on Day 7 of Khan’s ‘Haqeeqi Long March’. He is currently undergoing medical treatment at Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Lahore. He is leading the long march to force the country’s military-backed government to announce early elections.
PTI supporters arrested a man with a gun from the crime scene, who later confessed to the attack in a leaked video. The arrested man’s confessional video went viral an hour after his arrest. Interestingly enough, despite the confessional statement of one of the attackers, the police have not registered a case against him. “Everyone is afraid and does not want to register the FIR (First Information Report with the police),” Khan told a news conference at the hospital on November 4, hours after he escaped hurt in the assassination attempt. Who is stopping the police from registering the case in a province where Khan’s PTI and its allies are in government, is a hotly debated subject in Pakistan. The Chief Minister of Punjab province and Khan’s key ally Chaudhary Pervez Elahi, is a known political turncoat with close relations with Pakistan’s military. Khan’s party, much of Pakistani media, and witnesses insisted that there were multiple attackers and the assassination attempt was pre-planned.
Khan repeated the names of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sannaullah and ISI’s Major General Faisal Naseer as the key plotters of the assassination attempt at the news conference. Earlier his senior aides Asad Umar and Mian Aslam Iqbal had named the three officcials. Pakistani media reports say Umar has been banned on the state-run Pakistan Television and several Pakistani TV channels following his statement by the government.
سیکرٹری جنرل پاکستان تحریک انصاف اسد عمر اور میاں اسلم اقبال کا عمران خان پر بزدلانہ حملے کے حوالے سے اہم ترین بیان
— PTI (@PTIofficial) November 3, 2022
It was the first time a serving general of Pakistan’s army has been formally accused by Khan who has so far avoided confronting the military directly despite growing evidence of the military’s involvement in removing his government and adding to his political challenges. Pakistani media, facing unprecedented censorship witnessed not even during martial law, has been pointing fingers at the military and its intelligence agencies for shrinking space for independent media. ISPR, the media wing of Pakistan’s military, in a strongly worded rebuttal rejected Khan’s charges, insisting: “The baseless and irresponsible allegations by chairman PTI against the institution and particularly a senior army officer are absolutely unacceptable and uncalled for.” ISPR in a late-night statement said: “The institution will safeguard its officers and soldiers no matter what.”
But Khan and his supporters remain defiant, insisting that protests will continue until the three accused are removed from their jobs. Khan wants the Punjab police to register murder, attempted murder, and murder conspiracy cases against the three while the military and Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi are opposing a case against a sitting general, creating a deadlock that could create more political instability.
The military, which has condemned the attack on Khan, has been coming out of the shadows in recent days with two serving generals, ISI chief included, holding an unprecedented press conference. The generals accused their former boss of inciting anti-military sentiment and that journalist Arshad Sharif was safe in Pakistan, casting aspersions on the cold-blooded murder investigations. But now that the cat is out of the bag, the anti-military sentiment has become mainstream following the attack on Khan.
@ImranKhanPTI assassination attempt is direct result of unbridled unaccountable power of Army Chief which destroyed Army & Pakistan. This power has created fascist monsters like Bajwa, Nadeem Anjum, Faisal Nadeem, Fahim Raza. Till they aren’t punished they will destroy Pakistan! pic.twitter.com/a5fzI86N1V
— Haider Mehdi (@SHaiderRMehdi) November 3, 2022
Protests erupted across the country soon after the assassination attempt. Thousands of Khan’s supporters took to the streets to protest the attack in small and major cities across Pakistan, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala, and Peshawar.
Footage aired on local broadcasters and social media showed angry protesters burning old tires and blocking roads, effectively halting traffic in several cities. Slogans against Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa and other leaders.
Hundreds of charged protesters blocked the main Grand Truck Road, which connects northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province to northeastern Punjab, by burning tyres at different points. There were reports of protests outside a military garrison in Mardan and outside the house of the Military’s Corps Commander in Peshawar. Videos of purported protests near Pakistan military’s headquarters in Rawalpindi were also making the rounds, a rare occurrence in Pakistan.
This is unprecedented.
A Pakistan army tank, displayed as a symbol of the military’s might in Peshawar — and so many other cities across the country — is vandalised by angry protestors after the attack on Imran Khan.
Not in 75 years of history has this been witnessed in Pak. pic.twitter.com/DM4sYYWdNV
— Waj S. Khan (@WajSKhan) November 3, 2022
In Karachi, the country’s commercial capital, hundreds of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters blocked different roads, demanding the arrest of the culprits behind the assassination attempt.
Columns of flames and smoke could be seen billowing upwards as the protesters burned tyres, and other scraps while chanting anti-government slogans.
“Imran Khan is our red line,” the protesters chanted in unison as police personnel in riot gear stood by.
The assassination attempt drew widespread condemnation from within Pakistan and abroad. Several countries, organizations and leaders, civil rights activists and people from cross-sections of life took to Twitter and other social media platforms to condemn the attack.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinkin took to Twitter to condemn the attack.
The U.S. strongly condemns the shooting of @ImranKhanPTI at a political rally. We wish him and all others injured a quick recovery, and we offer condolences to the family of the individual who was killed. All parties should remain peaceful. Violence has no place in politics.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) November 3, 2022
“The United States strongly condemns the shooting of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and others at a political rally. We wish Imran Khan and all others who were injured a quick and thorough recovery, and we offer our condolences to the family of the individual who was killed. Violence has no place in politics, and we call on all parties to refrain from violence, harassment, and intimidation. The United States is deeply committed to a democratic and peaceful Pakistan, and we stand with the Pakistani people,” said a statement by Blinkin, posted on State Department’s website.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also condemned the attack, saying “violence has no place in politics, in any democracy or in our society.”
The attack on @ImranKhanPTI and his supporters is completely unacceptable, and I strongly condemn this violence. It has no place in politics, in any democracy, or in our society. I’m wishing a speedy recovery to Imran and all who were injured today.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 3, 2022
#Statement | The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s strong condemnation and denunciation of the attempted assassination of Former #Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. pic.twitter.com/uoOUzRP8yi
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) November 3, 2022
Renowned British journalist and author Yvonne Ridley while condemning the attack said it had backfired.
Attempts to silence @ImranKhanPTI have backfired. He’s now more popular than ever which makes him #Pakistan’s most dangerous man as far as the corrupt government is concerned. I doubt this shooting will make him back down – I know him & he will roar back. #ImranKhan
— Yvonne Ridley rat and witch validation 🐀 🧙♀️ (@yvonneridley) November 3, 2022