By Ayaz Gul
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was wounded in an apparent assassination attempt Thursday while he was leading his ongoing anti-government march on Islamabad.
The 70-year-old leader of opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was hit by at least one bullet in his right leg, his senior aid Rauf Hassan confirmed to VOA.
The gun attack in Wazirabad town, central Punjab province, left at least one person dead and 14 others wounded, including the former prime minister.
Khan was transported to a hospital in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, about 150 kilometers from the site of the attack, where doctors said he was in a stable condition, according to the aide.
Video footage showed a gunman firing from the ground at Khan who was atop a purpose-built truck leading the protest march.
Witnesses said that a participant quickly attempted to overpower the suspected shooter while he was still firing with his automatic weapon and fatally hit a marcher. Police later took the suspected assailant into custody. In a purported video confession later released to reporters, the suspect said his only mission was to kill Khan for “misleading” the public.
PTI leaders, however, questioned the identity of the detained suspect and his subsequent video confession, saying it was an attempt to cover up the assassination plot. They alleged that there was more than one assailant.
“It was a well planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan, the assassin planned to kill Imran khan and leadership of PTI,” tweeted Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a central leader of Khan’s party. He said that “it was a burst from automatic weapons” and it was a “narrow escape” for his chief.
The military’s media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), in a statement condemned the attack. “Sincere prayers for precious life lost and speedy recovery and well being of Chairman PTI Mr. Imran Khan and all those injured in this unfortunate incident,” said the ISPR.
Faisal Javed, a close Khan associate and member of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, was among those injured. He also confirmed the casualties while speaking to reporters outside a local hospital in his blood-stained clothes.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the shooting, saying he has directed the interior minister to immediately submit a report on the incident.
“I pray for the recovery and health of PTI chairman & other injured people. [The] Federal government will extend all support necessary to Punjab gov’t for security & investigation. Violence should have no place in our country’s politics,” Sharif tweeted.
Thursday’s attack angered Khan’s supporters, who took to the streets of major Pakistan cities in protest of the attempt on his life.
Khan launched his so-called “long march” from Lahore last Friday, saying he and his supporters plan to stage a sit-in protest in Islamabad to press the Sharif government into holding early elections. The rally is moving slowly, and it is expected to reach the Pakistani capital in about a week’s time, according to PTI leaders.
The cricket-star-turned opposition politician was ousted in a vote of no-confidence this April. But Khan rejected his removal as illegal, saying it was orchestrated by the United States in collusion with Sharif and Pakistan’s powerful military — an allegation he has yet to substantiate with evidence and that Washington and Islamabad deny.