Situation tense after Imran Khan is injured in shooting during long march
n November 3, former prime minister Imran Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman was wounded in a gun attack at Wazirabad’s Allah Wala Chowk. More than a dozen people, including party stalwarts Faisal Javed and Ahmad Nasir Chattha, were injured. One of the injured died in the attack. The police were holding a lone suspect who was reported to have confessed.
The attack was widely condemned from across the political divide. President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party Co-chairman Asif Zardari and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, among other leaders, condemned the incident in strongest terms.
President Alvi condemned the “murderous attack” on Khan and called it alarming and cowardly. Through his Twitter account, PM Shahbaz stated: “I condemn the incident of firing on PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the strongest terms. I have directed the Interior Minister to get an immediate report on the incident. I pray for the recovery of the PTI chairman and other injured people.”
“I condemn the firing on Imran Khan and his associates and pray for the recovery of the injured,” tweeted Nawaz Sharif. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also took to his Twitter handle to condemn the incident. “Praying for his swift recovery,” he wrote on Twitter. Former president Asif Zardari too decried the attack on Khan and said that he prayed for his speedy recovery. “The matter should be thoroughly investigated,” Zardari said. Maryam Nawaz said: “I condemn the shooting on Imran Khan and pray to Allah Almighty for the health of all injured, including Khan.”
PTI’s much-anticipated protest march had earlier started from Lahore on October 28. Chairman Imran Khan was leading thousands of party workers in the general direction of Islamabad apparently to force the coalition government to announce early general elections. Khan, undoubtedly enjoying great popularity, had been mentally preparing his supporters for the long march for a long time. Finally, he told his supporters that he would announce the final date on Friday (October 28). However, he surprised party leaders, supporters and even the government on Tuesday, three days before his scheduled announcement. “I’ll start the long march from Liberty, Lahore on Friday, October 28, and will reach Islamabad on November 4. I urge all Pakistanis to reach there,” he said.
He had been delaying the long march, which according to some PTI stalwarts, was Khan’s trump card. They had firmly believed that it would yield the desired results including the announcement of the election schedule and nomination of the next army chief in consultation with Khan. He had told his supporters on more than 12 occasions that he would give the call ‘soon’.
Some of his associates claimed that the assassination of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya and the approaching date of Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s retirement were the decisive factors behind the ‘early’ announcement of the long march.
The PTI’s much-anticipated protest march had earlier started from Lahore on October 28. Chairman Imran Khan was leading thousands of party workers in the general direction of Islamabad ostensibly to force the coalition government to announce early general elections. Khan, undoubtedly enjoying great popularity, had been mentally preparing his supporters for the long march for a long time.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has been holding meetings to discuss administrative strategies to handle the long march in case the protesters take law and order in their hand or try to enter the Red Zone in Islamabad. The federal government has deployed the FC and Sindh Police in the capital.
Earlier, Khan had said, “I will not announce a march if the government announces immediate elections.” He had maintained that early elections were his only demand. However, he seemed to deviate from this position in his opening speech at Liberty Chowk. “I am on the streets for achieving real independence,” he said.
A mammoth crowd was expected to participate in the march. However, the situation at Liberty Chowk was somewhat different. It was a good crowd. What alarmed the PTI leaders was the way the number of participants started diminishing on the way from Liberty Chowk to Ichhra, a distance of less than three kilometres. That night, Khan ended his march at Data Darbar, near Bhati Chowk. Some of his supporters and leaders kept waiting at Azadi Chowk. He returned to his Zaman Park house. The next day, he and other PTI leaders reached Shahdara to resume the long march with some delay and announced a stopover at Muridke.
On Sunday, journalist Sadaf Naeem died after being crushed by Khan’s truck after she tripped and fell on the road, apparently while trying to climb the truck. Her death prompted Khan to postpone the march for the night. Later, PTI leaders told The News on Sunday that the party had decided not to continue the march at night for several reasons, including security concerns. They said they had decided to carry out all activities during daylight hours.
In a major blow to Khan’s ‘conspiracy’ narrative, speaking at a joint press briefing held by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directors general, accused him of asking the army chief to support his government against the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly. It was the first time in the history of Pakistan that an intelligence chief spoke to the media in a news conference and took questions. Both the military officials strongly refuted Khan’s narrative about the alleged regime change conspiracy. They also contradicted several subsequent claims made by Khan.
Another problem for Khan’s long march is the contempt of court matter being heard by the Supreme Court of Pakistan about the defiance of the apex court’s order on May 25 when the PTI workers had entered the Red Zone after an undertaking was given to the court on Khan’s behalf to the contrary. Khan has denied any knowledge of the undertaking.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism and analyst