Under the global spotlight

November 13, 2022

Imran Khan received instant international attention following an attack on his convoy in Wazirabad

Photo by Rahat Dar
Photo by Rahat Dar


akistan’s politics has never been entirely transparent. It is no different currently. Various players with divergent interests and choices are in the arena. Their ultimate goal is to capture political power for material rewards, ostensibly to be shared with their respective constituencies. Actual development across the country has been marginal. Today, the country lacks funds to rehabilitate the floods victims. Economic losses on account of protest politics by political parties and pressure groups are an additional burden. Since his ouster from office in April this year, Imran Khan, the chairperson of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has launched a new phase of protest politics, starting with processions in major urban areas of the country. Due to his personal appeal and a huge fan following, Khan has pulled crowds over the recent weeks. This has helped his party electorally. It won massively in the two rounds of by elections held in July and October this year. Khan has managed to defeat candidates of his archrivals the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the Punjab, and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Khan’s main political objective is to pressure the civilian government and urge the military establishment to set an early date for general elections. Based on his popularity and recent performance in the by elections, Khan and his party are confident of a return to power. The government has been adamant that it will complete its term. Khan’s narrative has been centered around a “foreign conspiracy” that can only be filed through early elections.

Not satisfied perhaps with the progress of the so-called backdoor negotiations, Khan and the party started the much-hyped long march on October 28. It moved at a snail’s pace unlike the long marches launched in the past by the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which followed a clear timeframe, usually one or two days to reach the federal capital. The PTI march took five days to reach Wazirabad, around 100 kilometres from Lahore where on November 3 Imran Khan was shot at. Khan and some of his supporters sustained bullet injuries and another person, reportedly a PTI supporter, died at the spot. National leaders as well as the international community have overwhelmingly condemned the attempt on Khan’s life.

“The United States strongly condemns the attack on Imran Khan and his supporters and hopes for a swift recovery for all who were injured,” said the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, “The US strongly condemns the shooting of [Imran Khan] at a political rally. We wish him and all others injured a quick recovery, and we offer condolences to the family of the individual who was killed. All parties should remain peaceful. Violence has no place in politics.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed solidarity with Khan. He said, “The attack on Imran Khan and his supporters is completely unacceptable, and I strongly condemn this violence. It has no place in politics, in any democracy, or in our society. I’m wishing a speedy recovery to Imran and all who were injured today.” On behalf of the European community, the representative of the European Union (EU) based in Pakistan tweeted, “[We are] shocked by the attack on [Imran Khan] and his companions. Violence in any form is wrong and unacceptable, horrifying in a country with this sad history. We wish full recovery for all injured.” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted: “Shocking attack on [Imran Khan] in Pakistan which has left one person dead. My thoughts are with all those affected. There is no space for violence in politics.” London-based, Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousufzai, in one of her tweets, said, “Attacks on leaders of any political belief or party are always wrong. And violence is never an acceptable [form of] protest. Wishing Imran Khan a full recovery.”

The Muslim world also expressed sympathy with Imran Khan and other injured persons. In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated, “We strongly condemn the attack that targetted Mr Imran Khan, a former prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan… Turkey attaches importance to peace and stability of Pakistan and will always continue to stand by friendly and brotherly Pakistan”. According to the Arab News, “Saudi Arabia has strongly condemned the attempted assassination of former Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Thursday [November 3]… The Kingdom stands with Pakistan and its people in the face of all threats to its security, stability and development process, the ministry said.”

Imran Khan clearly received instant international attention from major power centres of the Western world, particularly the US – a country which saw Khan somewhat suspiciously under the Biden administration, largely due to the former’s allegations of hatching a conspiracy to oust him. Reportedly, however, Khan’s party has since hired a lobbyist in a bid to normalise ties with Biden’s team. English officials and media in general carry a positive image of Imran Khan due to his cricket-based popularity and, later, relations with the Goldsmith family. Overall, the Western sympathy towards Khan is grounded in the West’s liberal notion of human rights where, in theory, every individual has the right to life, speech and political association.

Morally, thus, Khan appears to be fully supported by the North American, British and European leadership. Politically, their cumulative opinion may urge the Pakistani authorities to beef up Khan’s security because ultimately the party-in-office is blamed for any violence against a popular leader. Nonetheless, the contours of Pakistan’s politics and, importantly, civil-military relations are determined domestically, and not internationally. Hence, it is vital that the political elite, including Imran Khan, find a solution to this lingering crisis of political and socioeconomic instability. Miscalculations may lead to disastrous outcomes, not just for the ruling elite but also for the entire country.

The writer has a PhD in political science from Heidelberg University and a post-doc from UC-Berkeley. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright fellow and an associate professor. He can be reached at ejaz.bhatty@gmail.com

Under the global spotlight