Imran Khan ally blames Pakistan prime minister of being behind shooting

Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has accused the current leader Shehbaz Sharif and senior officials of being behind a conspiracy to assassinate him, a top ally said, as political tensions in the country run high following an attack on the popular ex-leader.

Khan, 70, who was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote in April, was shot multiple times in the leg After an attacker opened fire at his open-top truck during a march on Thursday.

Asad Umar, secretary-general of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party, said the former cricket captain made the accusations in a meeting at his hospital following the shooting, according to a video released by the PTI.

Khan said he believed Sharif, interior minister Rana Sanaullah and Major General Faisal Naseer, a senior military official, were involved in the attack on him, according to Umar. He did not provide evidence for the allegations.

Khan also said that PTI supporters should take to the streets in protest until the three resign, Umar added.

“The demand is that these three must be removed,” Umar said. “Otherwise there will be nationwide protests.”

Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership all deny the claims and have condemned the attack against Khan. Sharif on Thursday ordered an interior ministry report into the incident. “I pray for the recovery and health of the PTI chair and other injured people,” the prime minister said. The military have also put out a statement condemning the attack.

A suspect has been arrested, and in a widely circulated video released by the police, the alleged assailant confesses to trying to kill Khan for “misleading” the people, adding that he acted alone.

Mian Aslam Iqbal, another senior PTI official who appeared in the video with Umar, said the party would file a police complaint against Sharif and other administration leaders. PTI supporters demonstrated overnight following the attack.

The allegations were made in a February atmosphere in Pakistan, where a long history of deadly attacks on leaders has fueled concerns of potential for further violence. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 2007.

“The fear was that this would lead to an outbreak of violence,” said Azeema Cheema, a director at Verso Consulting. “Neither the civilian government nor military establishment will escape public blame and criticism for this attack, regardless of the facts about who perpetuated it.”

Pakistan’s media regulator barred TV channels from broadcasting Umar’s comments on Thursday night, alleging that it was “prejudicial to maintenance of law and order” and prejudged the outcome of the investigation, according to the country’s Dawn newspaper.

Khan’s popularity has surged since he was ousted as prime minister in April, with his relentless criticism of Sharif’s government striking a chord at a time of economic crisis. Khan and his party also engaged in a rare stand-off with Pakistan’s military, with figures from both sides criticizing each other in public.

Khan launched a march last Friday through Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province by population, to the capital of Islamabad to rally enough support to topple Sharif as prime minister and force early elections.

“As Pakistan’s political divide has sharpened over time, Pakistan’s political rivals have increased their hatred against each other,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst. “This message of hatred has spread across society.”

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