WAZIRABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan accused his successor on Friday (Nov 4) of involvement in a plot to kill him as he recovered in hospital from gunshot wounds following an assassination attempt.
Khan told reporters that Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced him as premier following a vote of no confidence in April, was involved in a plot that included Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a senior army commander.
“These three decided to kill me,” Khan said in his first public appearance since Thursday’s attack, adding that two gunman were involved.
The government has denied any part, and blamed the assassination attempt on a gunman fueled by religious extremism.
The attack on Khan’s convoy killed one man and wounded at least 10, significantly raising the stakes in a political crisis that has gripped the South Asian nation since Khan’s ousting in April.
The 70-year-old former international cricket star had been leading a campaign convoy of thousands since last week from Lahore to the capital Islamabad.
Sitting in a wheelchair – his right leg in a cast and left leg heavily bandaged – Khan spoke for over an hour, railing against the government and establishment he accuses of unseating him.
Earlier, scattered protests broke out around the country after Friday afternoon prayers, the most important of the week, with police deploying tear gas in several cities to control crowds.
Khan was looking out at the crowd when bullets were sprayed at his modified container truck as it slowly inched through a thick crowd in Wazirabad, around 170km east of Islamabad.
“Everyone who was standing in the very front row got hit,” former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, who was standing behind Khan, told AFP earlier.
One gunman was tackled by a supporter, preventing more injuries, he added.
A suspect was taken into police custody and a video which appears to be a confession to police was leaked to the media, in which he says Khan was “misleading the public”.
He adds that he was angry with the noisy procession for interrupting the call to prayer that summons Muslims to the mosque five times a day.
Interior Minister Sanaullah said the attack was “a very clear case of religious extremism”.
“The allegations made by the accused in the video are very alarming and very terrifying,” he said at a press conference.
The accused, named by Punjab government officials as Naveed Ahmad, comes from a poor village near the rally site where Khan was shot.
Neighbours told AFP the father was a “simple boy” with no obvious religious or political leanings.
Pakistan has long grappled with Islamist militancy, with right-wing religious groups having huge sway over the population.
Khan has previously been accused of stoking religious sentiments to broaden his support base.
Pakistan has been no stranger to assassination attempts during decades of political instability, and the powerful military has led the country several times.
Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was shot dead at a rally in Rawalpindi in 1951. Another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in 2007 when a huge bomb detonated near her vehicle as she greeted supporters in the city of Rawalpindi.
Khan’s campaign truck has become a crime scene for now, cordoned off and guarded by commandos as forensic experts comb the area.
KHAN BOOTED FROM POWER
Khan was booted from office in April by a no-confidence vote after defections by some of his coalition partners, but he retains huge support.
He was voted into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform by an electorate tired of dynastic politics, but his mishandling of the economy – and falling out with a military accused of helping his rise – sealed his fate.
Since then, he has railed against the establishment and Sharif’s government, which he says was imposed on Pakistan by a “conspiracy” involving the United States.
Khan and Shehbaz have for months traded bitter accusations of corruption and incompetence, raising the political temperature in a nation that is frequently at boiling point.
Khan has repeatedly told supporters he was prepared to die for the country, and aides have long warned of unspecified threats made on his life.
The attack drew international condemnation including from the United States, which had uneasy relations with Khan when he was in power.
“Violence has no place in politics, and we call on all parties to refrain from violence, harassment and intimidation,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.