Imran Khan has been shot and wounded in an apparent assassination attempt, an act of violence against one of Pakistan’s most popular and influential political leaders that shocked the country.
Khan, 70, who was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote in April, was injured in his leg and not in a critical condition, according to Pakistani officials. Pakistan president Arif Alvi wrote on Twitter that Khan was “safe but injured with few bullets in his leg and hopefully non-critical”.
Officials said an assailant fired on Khan’s convoy as the former leader traveled through the city of Wazirabad, part of a week-long march intended to challenge the government of prime minister Shehbaz Sharif. A video of the scene captured a burst of gunfire as Khan stood on an open-top truck surrounded by supporters.
Officials from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party said one person had been killed and seven injured in the shooting. The PTI posted on Twitter a video of Faisal Javed Khan, a senator, with bloodstains and bandages on his face. Officials added that one person had been arrested.
Sharif “severely condemned” the attack. “Violence should have no place in our country’s politics,” the PM wrote on Twitter. He said he had ordered the interior minister to make an immediate report on the incident.
Ahsan Iqbal, planning minister and a senior member of Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, said: “Thank God [Khan] is safe.”
Since his removal as premier, Khan’s support has soared as his populist messaging strikes a chord at a time of painful inflation.
The former cricket star last Friday launched the march through Punjab province to the capital Islamabad in an effort to whip up a large enough show of support to topple Sharif as prime minister and force early elections.
After the shooting, Khan was taken to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial hospital in Lahore. One PTI leader told the FT that Khan was expected to recover soon.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted Imran Ismail, a senior PTI member who was standing with Khan when he was attacked, as saying the shots were clearly directed at him. “The bullet was meant to kill, not scare,” Ismail said.
Pakistan has a grim history of political violence. In 2007, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber at an election rally.
Thursday’s shooting comes at a volatile time in Pakistani politics, with rival political leaders engaged in an international tense public stand-off. Khan and government leaders have in recent months frequently levelled bitter awards against each other.
Azeema Cheema, a director at Verso Consulting, said the attack appeared to echo the 2007 killing of Bhutto and the 2011 assassination of well-known Punjab governor Salman Taseer.
The shooting had opened a “Pandora’s box” that risked escalating political tensions and could lead to further violence, Cheema said. Despite the high-pitched political rhetoric of recent months, “this red line [of violence] hadn’t been crossed yet”, she said.
Local TV channels broadcast a video of what they said was Khan’s alleged assailant confessing to attacking the former prime minister. The man accused Khan of “misleading” the people and said: “I tried my best to kill him.”
Khan was first elected in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform, but struggled with economic challenges while in office — paving the way for his removal.
Pakistan’s election commission last month barred Khan from holding office over claims he mishandled gifts that he received while prime minister. Many analysts nonetheless expect the ruling will be overturned in time for him to contest national elections, which have to be held by next year at the latest.
Khan has also engaged in a rare stand-off with Pakistan’s powerful military, who last week publicly criticized his “unconstitutional wishes”. The military condemned the attack.
On Monday, Khan wrote of the crowds accompanying him on the march to the capital that for six months he had been “witnessing a revolution”.
“[The] only question is will it be a soft one through the ballot box or a destructive one through bloodshed?” Khan wrote.