1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Pakistan: Imran Khan and supporters cry foul over attack

Haroon Janjua Islamabad
November 4, 2022

Imran Khan has accused political opponents of orchestrating the shooting that wounded him in the leg. The former PM is gaining strength from his supporters but the current government is hoping to hold out until 2023.

Supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, gather in a protest a day after the assassination attempt on Khan, in Karachi on November 4
The power struggle between Khan and his political rivals is currently at boiling pointImage: Asif Hassan/AFP

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is in a stable condition after being shot in the leg on Thursday during an attack on a protest march which his supporters claimed was an assassination plot.

The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician, who was ousted from power earlier this year, was waving to supporters from an open-topped truck when bullets were fired just outside the town of Gujranwala, Punjab province.

One of Khan's supporters was confirmed dead, while 10 were wounded, including Khan. The incident stirred nationwide protests.

Tensions remained high on Friday and supporters were called to demonstrate across the country.

"We have called for a nationwide protest after the cowardly attack on Imran Khan. I urge the nation to come out on streets in solidarity with Imran Khan," Fawad Chaudhry, a spokesperson for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) told DW.

"Imran Khan is stable and doing fine," his doctor Faisal Sultan, at Shaukat Khanum Hospital in the eastern city of Lahore, said on Friday.

Scathing row amid rising tensions

Khan and the country's powerful military are in the midst of a scathing row over who should rule Pakistan.

In an unprecedented presser on Thursday, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum, accused Khan of secretly seeking the country's powerful military for "illegal and unconstitutional" support for his government.

He blamed Khan for his criticism of the military that it had orchestrated his ouster in April while supporting his political opponents.

The ISI chief rarely makes public appearances, nor interacts with the media.

The growing political instability in Pakistan would further polarize the situation, according to analysts, where political violence and assassination attempts are not a new issue.

Khan says attack was a conspiracy

Khan on Thursday through Asad Umar, secretary-general of the PTI, issued a statement accusing Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah, the interior minister, and Major General Faisal Naseer, director-general of counterintelligence, of plotting the attack on him.

"Tensions will be very high," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told DW. 

"Khan and his supporters believe the state is out to get them, and they are convinced that the state was behind this attack. I don't expect Khan to take a more cautious approach. While he had toned down some of his criticism of the military in recent weeks, I imagine this attack will galvanize him and prompt him to double down, with Khan renewing his demand for early elections."

"There is a possibility Khan will increase pressure as the victim card," Qamar Cheema, a political analyst based in Islamabad told DW, but the former prime minister's main tactic will be the "massive mobilization of people. After the attack, people came out on the streets but could not protest long because there was no leadership with them."

Power struggle amid Khan's rising popularity

The power struggle between Khan and his political rivals is currently at boiling point with intense polarization where violent confrontations and attacks are commonplace.

The simmering differences are coming at a time when a key appointment of the new chief of the army staff has to be made.

"The ugly confrontation we're seeing play out will continue at least until the new army chief arrives," said Kugelman. "The military may have lost popularity but it remains powerful politically, and so the new chief will have a major impact on the trajectory of this long and ugly political confrontation."

Khan's popularity, meanwhile, has been getting higher since he was ousted from office and the former PM is demanding snap polls ahead of due time, which is August 2023.

"The government is afraid of Imran Khan's growing popularity," Farooq Ahmed, a Khan supporter who was traveling with the march yesterday and witnessed the shooting, told DW. "We will not leave our struggle to demand early elections. The protest march should not stop."

Kugelman says Khan is "a populist with massive support. When efforts are made to weaken someone like that, they tend to just get stronger."

Cheema says Khan is gaining strength from people power, but that may wane if the current government can hold out.

"Khan will be stronger but if the assembly completes the tenure that may diffuse his power."

Edited by: John Silk

Haroon Janjua
Haroon Janjua Journalist based in Islamabad, focusing on Pakistani politics and societyJanjuaHaroon