By: Washington Post
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s top opposition leader, Imran Khan, was shot in the foot Thursday during a protest march and was lightly injured, party officials said.
A gunman opened fire on a truck carrying the former prime minister and several other party officials taking part in a protest convoy. The attack occurred near the eastern Pakistani city of Wazirabad, where hundreds of Khan’s supporters were marching.
Video footage of the attack released by Khan’s office showed party leaders atop a bus ducking for cover as a burst of shots rang out over music playing from the crowd.
“Khan was hit in the foot, but his condition is stable,” Asad Umar, a senior leader of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, told the local Pakistani broadcaster ARY News. He said the former leader is receiving medical treatment in Lahore. “Five to six other party leaders, who were atop of a truck with Khan, were also injured. One person is in serious condition,” he said.
The attack has intensified escalating hostilities between Khan and the Pakistani government. Khan supporters and members of his party are describing it as an assassination attempt, allegations that Pakistan’s leadership say are attempts to politicize the shooting and stoke unrest.
“It was a well planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan, the assassin planned to kill Imran Khan” and his party leadership, a senior member of Khan’s party, Fawad Chaudhry, tweeted after the attack.
But in a video confession released by local police, the alleged shooter said he acted alone and did not mention a political motivation for the attack. The man, who is not named in the video, said he shot at Khan because loud music was playing 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, just and only Imran Khan and no one else,” the man said in the video broadcast by several Pakistani news outlets. “It was my sudden decision,” he said, suggesting that it was not a planned attack. “No one is behind me and no one was with me. I was acting alone and no one came with me.”
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the shooting in a statement Thursday and ordered an investigation. In an address to the nation, Information minister Maryam Aurangzeb condemned the incident but stressed that it appeared to lack political motivations, and she called for calm.
“The shooter has given the reasons why he tried to kill Khan and hence there is no need to involve politics in this issue,” she said. She called allegations of an assassination attempt “very unfortunate” and said, “Please refrain from such irresponsible statements unless and until investigation is completed.”
Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote this year but has since been building popular support across the country with large rallies slamming government officials as corrupt and calling them foreign puppets.
Last week, Khan launched a march toward the country’s capital, Islamabad, to demand early elections. He pledged that the march would culminate in the largest demonstration in Pakistan’s history.
Khan has come under increasing pressure from the Pakistani government as his popular protest movement has grown. Several legal cases have been filed against him, including one under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law. On Friday, Pakistan’s spy chief made a rare public statement accusing Khan of asking the military for “illegal and unconstitutional” support.
Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, who rarely appears in public, announced the accusations at a heated news conference. He said Khan asked the military for favors during his time in power, 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 leaders of the security forces rarely weigh in on politics publicly.