Comment on this story
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s leading opposition figure Imran Khan has accused senior government officials of orchestrating an attack on Thursday in which he was shot in the foot and slightly injured during a protest march, party officials said.
A gunman opened fire on a truck transporting the former prime minister and several other party officials who were taking part in a protest convoy. The attack occurred near the eastern Pakistani city of Wazirabad, where hundreds of Khan’s supporters were marching.
In a statement read by Asad Umar, a senior leader of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan said “he already has some information and can say with authority” that Pakistan’s prime minister, interior minister and spy chief were behind the attack .
“Khan is demanding that these three people be removed from their posts,” Umar said in a statement to local channels. “If they are not released, a nationwide protest will be held. We will not allow Pakistan to be governed like this. Our protest will continue until these three people are released.”
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah called the allegations unfounded. “They have no evidence and are only making these false accusations for their political interests,” he said. Sanaullah said that Khan’s party had promoted “extremist views” that would rebound on Khan and his supporters.
“Remember that you can also become the target of this hatred,” he said. “Please stop doing this, it will only encourage more violence.”
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif previously condemned the shooting in a statement on Thursday and ordered an investigation.
Video footage of the attack released by Khan’s office showed party leaders on a bus ducking for cover as an explosion of gunfire rang out over music played by the crowd.
“Khan was hit in the foot but his condition is stable,” Umar told local Pakistani broadcaster ARY News. He said the former leader was receiving medical treatment in Lahore. “Five to six other party leaders who were on a truck with Khan were also injured. One person is in serious condition,” he said.
The attack has fueled escalating hostilities between Khan and the Pakistani government. Khan supporters and members of his party describe it as an assassination, allegations that Pakistan’s leaders have described as attempts to politicize the shooting and foment unrest.
In a video confession released by local police, the alleged gunman said he acted alone and mentioned no political motivation for the attack. The man, who is not named in the video, said he shot Khan because loud music was played during the march at the same time as the Muslim call to prayer, an act considered disrespectful by many conservative Muslims.
“I tried to kill him. I really tried to kill him, only Imran Khan and nobody else,” the man said in the video, which was broadcast by several Pakistani news outlets. “It was my sudden decision,” he said, implying that it wasn’t a planned attack. “No one is behind me and no one was with me. I played alone and no one came with me.”
In an address to the nation, Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb condemned the incident and called for calm.
“The shooter gave the reasons why he tried to kill Khan and therefore there is no need to bring politics into this matter,” she said. She called the assassination allegations “very regrettable” and said: “Please refrain from such irresponsible statements until the investigation is complete.”
Khan was ousted by a no-confidence vote earlier this year but has since built popular support across the country with large rallies calling government officials corrupt and foreign puppets.
Last week, Khan launched a march towards the country’s capital, Islamabad, to call for early elections. He promised the march would culminate in the largest demonstration in Pakistan’s history.
Pakistan bans Imran Khan from politics, causing unrest
Khan is coming under increasing pressure from the Pakistani government as his popular protest movement has grown. Several court cases have been instituted against him, including one under Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Law. On Friday, Pakistan’s spy chief issued a rare public statement accusing Khan of soliciting “illegal and unconstitutional” assistance from the military.
Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, who rarely appears in public, announced the allegations at a heated press conference. He said Khan requested favors from the military during his tenure but did not specify what Khan requested.
Khan’s party denied any wrongdoing.
Pakistan’s military is considered the most powerful force in the country, but senior security forces leaders rarely intervene publicly in politics.
George reported from Kabul.