Rajat Sharma

Attack on Imran: Conditions in Pakistan may deteriorate

akb fullThere were nationwide protests by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) supporters, after Jumma prayers, across the country on Friday. Tension mounted after former PM Imran Khan survived an assassination attempt. The former cricket star was wounded in his legs, when a gunman opened fire at him and his supporters at Allah Wala Chowk in Wazirabad, nearly 200 km away from Islamabad on Thursday afternoon.

Imran Khan was traveling in a large convoy of container trucks and vehicles, heading for Islamabad on a ‘long march’. He was standing on the roof of the container, and waving to his supporters, when the gunfire took place. Imran Khan and his party has been demanding holding of early parliamentary elections.

The assailant, Mohammed Naved, was overpowered by Imran Khan’s supporters and handed over to police. He later told on camera that he wanted to kill Imran Khan only. His aim was deflected by an alert supporter who caught him from behind, and, in the melee, the automatic pistol burst several rounds of fire killing one person named Muazzam Nawaz and injuring seven others, including Imran Khan. Among those injured were Senator Faisal Javed, former Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Ahmed Chatha and Umar Dar, all PTI leaders.

The PTI chief was immediately surrounded by his guards and, with his foot bandaged, rushed in a bulletproof car to Shaukat Khanam Hospital in Lahore where his leg was operated upon. According to Dr Faisal Sultan, there were fragments of bullets in his legs and a chip in his tibia shin bone. He was moved to the operation theatre for removal of bullet fragments. He is now out of danger. “Imran Khan is in high spirits, he is feeling perfectly well. The doctors are allowing him to move, and he will be discharged soon”, said Seemi Bokhari, a PTI leader.

Media reports said, the assailant who fired at Imran Khan, is a drug addict. According to reports, he purchased 46 bullets with an automatic 9 mm pistol. He first tried to use the roof of a mosque, but police did not allow him due to Asr prayers. He reached the crime of scene, and before firing, he asked some of the supporters to stop the blaring of loudspeakers playing the party anthem. As supporters were showering flower petals on Imran Khan, the assailant tried to take aim and fire, before he was overpowered. Meanwhile, the truck-mounted container, in which Imran was travelling, remained parked at the scene of crime in Wazirabad.

Punjab chief minister Chaudhary Pervez Elahi has suspended the SHO and all staff of the police station, where the assailant’s statement was recorded on video and passed on to media soon after the attack. He asked the state IG to form a joint investigation team to probe the firing incident. All mobile phones of suspended police staff have been confiscated for forensic audit.

The firing incident shook Pakistan. There were spontaneous protests by PTI workers in all major cities and towns. Imran Khan alleged that the assassination attempt was planned by none other than Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a top ISI officer Major General Faisal. Imran Khan released a message through his party leader saying, “if the three are not removed, the government will be responsible for the consequences”. On Friday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah rejected charges of conspiracy and said: “We see Imran Khan as our political opponent, not an enemy. It is Imran Khan who looks at his political opponents as enemies.”

On Thursday night, there were incidents of arson and roadblocks by PTI supporters in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Multan and other cities. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said, the black history of assassinations in Pakistan’s history was sought to be repeated on Thursday. He reminded how former PMs Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto had to lose their lives. Another PTI leader and former minister Sheikh Rasheed alleged that there seems to be a conspiracy to start a civil war in Pakistan through this failed assassination attempt. He named Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah as “the mastermind”.

The attack on Imran Khan is cowardly. It is an attack on democracy and must be condemned by all. The effects of this failed assassination attempt will be seen in the coming days in Pakistan politics. It signals a new danger. The manner in which harsh remarks and statements are being made by politicians from all sides, is all the more dangerous. Imran Khan has named the PM, Interior Minister and the Army for this attempt.

My assessment is that conditions could deteriorate in the coming weeks and months in Pakistan. Imran Khan has already sent a warning message saying if Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is not removed, it will be the government which shall be held responsible. In other words, Imran Khan is signalling to his supporters what to do next. His supporters are openly saying that the Pakistan Army is trying to target Imran. Those in the government question the manner in which this attack took place. They are indirectly signalling that it was the PTI which arranged this failed attempt drama in order to garner nationwide sympathy for its leader.

Such allegations and counter-allegations can only worsen the situation in Pakistan. Remember how Benazir Bhutto was killed. It was a Thursday and the date was December 27, 2007. Benazir was campaigning, and she was shot from the back. Benazir’s assailant after firing at her, blew himself up killing her along with 22 others. What happened to Imran seems to be a repeat of what happened to Benazir. Benazir lost her life, but with the blessings of Almighty, Imran survived the attempt.

It is strange why Pakistan did not learn from Benazir’s assassination. With protests going on across Pakistan, the situation seems to be getting out of hand. The government, army and major political parties are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. When people lose faith in their leaders, when a country becomes mired in the cesspit of corruption, and the entire system fails, such conditions happen. Since Pakistan is our neighbour, we in India must remain alert.

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