By MUNIR AHMED and RIAZAT BUTT (Associated Press)
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A gunman opened fire Thursday at a campaign truck carrying Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, wounding him slightly and killing one of his supporters, his party and police said. Nine others were also wounded.
Party official Asad Umar said Khan was wounded in the leg and was not seriously hurt. The identity of the gunman, who was arrested at the scene, was not immediately known. No group has claimed responsibility for the shooting.
The attack raised new concerns about growing political instability in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with a massive population of 225 million people. Since his ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April, Khan has been able to mobilize mass rallies across the country, where he has whipped up crowds with claims that he was a victim of a conspiracy by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States.
Both the new premier and Washington have denied such allegations.
Pakistan has a decades-long history of political assassinations, the most high-profile being that of Benazir Bhutto, who was twice prime minister and the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country.
She was killed by a suicide bomber in 2007 at an election rally in Rawalpindi as she was making a bid for a third term. Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan was shot in 1951, also in Rawalpindi. Ministers, provincial governors, and senior political party leaders have also been assassinated since Pakistan was created in 1947.
According to police, Thursday’s attack happened in the Wazirabad district in the eastern Punjab province where Khan was traveling in a large convoy of trucks and cars heading towards the capital, Islamabad, as part of his campaign aimed at forcing the government to hold early elections.
Among the wounded was also Faisal Javed, a lawmaker from Tehreek-e-Insaf. In a video statement, with blood staining his clothes, Javed insisted that Khan’s protest march to Islamabad would not stop.
District police officer Ghazanfar Ali said one person was killed and nine others were wounded in the attack. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan demanded a report from the police about the incident and condemned the attack.
Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan’s party, told the supporters surrounding Khan’s truck that the attack was an attempt on the life of the country’s former premier.
Khan — a former cricket star turned Islamist politician — has refused to back down from his positions. The country’s powerful military has said that although Khan had a democratic right to hold a rally in Islamabad, no one will be allowed to destabilize the country. Authorities in Islamabad have already deployed additional security around the city to deter any clashes or violence.
Khan with later seen with a bandage on his right leg, just above the foot, according to reports and a blurry image. He was moved to another vehicle from his container truck, from where announcements were being made that he was safe.
“He is being taken to a hospital in Lahore, but he is not seriously wounded. A bullet hit him in the leg,” Umar told reporters. According to the Interior Ministry, the government has ordered a probe into the incident.
An unspecified number of supporters from his Tehreek-e-Insaf party who were part of the march were also wounded, according to the announcement from the party.
The attack happened less than a week after Khan began his march from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, along with thousands of supporters.
Since his ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April, Khan has alleged that his ouster was a conspiracy engineered by his successor, Sharif, and the United States — claims that both the new premier and Washington have denied.
Sharif’s government has also said that there would be no early vote and that the next elections will be held according to schedule, in 2023.
Khan’s latest challenge to the government comes after Pakistan’s elections commission disqualified him from holding public office for five years for allegedly selling state gifts unlawfully and concealing assets as premier.
Khan, who has challenged the disqualification in a pending court case, has said he would sue Chief Election Commissioner Sikandara Raja, who was behind the decision, for calling him a “dishonest person.”
It was also not immediately known if Khan’s convoy would proceed on to Islamabad. Earlier, Chaudhry had said they plan to enter Islamabad on Friday.
The attack also comes at a time when impoverished Pakistan is grappling with the aftermath of unprecedented floods that struck this Islamic nation over the summer, killing 1,735 people and displacing 33 million.
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