(Note: This story was originally published in November 2022 and is being replugged now in light of recent developments in Pakistan)
The attempt on former Pakistan prime minister and PTI leader Imran Khan’s life has sent shock waves among his supporters and is likely to further enhance his rising popularity.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is at the moment on top of his political game with public support for him skyrocketing. It is no wonder that Farrukh Habib senior party said after the attempt on Khan warned the former prime minister’s enemies to ``remember this is the life of 220 million people.’’ While this incident will further muddy the political debate in Pakistan, whether it will force the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to hold elections immediately as the Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Islam is demanding is unlikely.
After being ousted from power in a vote of no-confidence in April, Imran Khan has claimed that the Joe Biden administration in Washington has with the support of the country’s discredited political parties (read the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party) ousted him from power. It was a conspiracy hatched in Washington and London (Where Nawaz Sharif lives) to rid the country of a Prime Minister who refused to take dictation from the US. He had visited Moscow and met Vladimir Putin on the day Russian troops were ordered into Ukraine. Though there is little evidence of it, Imran Khan has claimed at several rallies that he was hoping to buy oil from Russia at a lower rate, much like what India had done.
This narrative that the corrupt politicians joined hands with the US to oust him, was ironically accepted as the gospel truth by many Pakistanis as ordinary people are today virulently anti-American. Khan has cleverly played into these emotions and despite his government’s dismal economic performance, people do not blame him for their plight. Since his ouster, Khan’s popularity has soared.
This has given him immense confidence and put all his opponents, including Pakistan’s powerful military leaders that he has dared to take on the back foot.
Khan won the 2018 national elections with the support of the military establishment. But he has now fallen out with army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, who after two extensions is to finally retire this year. Khan was unhappy with Bajwa also over the removal of former spy chief Faiz Hameed, a favourite of the former PM who allegedly helped PTI to form a coalition government and helped to keep the smaller parties in check. But Faiz Hameed was removed not because he had issues with the army chief, but as his chances of becoming army chief a few years down the line would have been affected unless he commanded a corps. He was transferred as Peshawar Corps Commander after his hugely successful stint as Inter-Services Intelligence chief. He played an important role in guiding the Taliban through the Doha negotiations and helped to sort out internal squabbles within the Taliban as the took power in Kabul in 2021.
Khan is no fan of the current low key ISI chief General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum. The PTI leader tore into the Director General ISI after he held an unprecedented news conference aimed at rubbishing much of Imran Khan’s claims. But the PTI leader has now come out strongly against the current military leadership. Many will try to link this with the attempt on his life today. But such speculation is premature and if the establishment was involved, the assassin would possibly not aim at Imran Khan’s legs. One remembers the horror of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination where she was shot in the head, and bombs hurled on her SUV. Who killed her still remains a mystery, though many believe the establishment of that time was involved. That investigation was never completed though her party came to power riding on a sympathy wave.
Imran Khan was on a container truck in Wazirabad, when shots were fired at close range. He was injured in the leg but luckily survived the assassination attempt. He was immediately taken to hospital and is said to be in stable condition. Four to five PTI leaders were also injured. There are also reports of one death. The gunman was over powered by Khan’s supporters and is now in police custody.