Conflict Alerts # 567, 10 November 2022
In the news
On 3 November, Imran Khan was shot at in an assassination attempt when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) ‘Haqeeqi Azadi’ march reached Wazirabad’s Allahwala Chowk in Punjab. The suspect opened fire on the PTI chief leaving him with four bullets in the leg; one person was killed and 14 others injured.
Following the attack, PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry alleged: “It was a well-planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan. The assassin planned to kill Imran Khan and the leadership of PTI. It was not 9MM, it was a burst from an automatic weapon. No two opinions that it was a narrow escape.”
Meanwhile, Khan said the attack was “actually an attempt to permanently silence” him for “exposing the elite capture.” He said: “These powerful people will try to target me again because they have a fear that my party will sweep the next elections,” and that they were strongly opposed to him, an “outsider,” for aiming to bring a change to the current political system.
Following the attack, a controversy over the filing of the FIR for the incident arose. On 5 September, the Punjab police denied having received any complaint from the PTI for an FIR. However, the PTI claimed that they had submitted the request at the police station, but were not provided with any receipt. Later, on 7 November, the Punjab police finally registered an FIR after the Supreme Court warned that it would initiate suo moto proceedings if the provincial police failed to register the FIR. However, the FIR did not mention the names of the people Khan accused in the complaint, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and senior intelligence officer Major General Faisal Naseer.
Issues at large
First, Khan’s recent political battles. Since April 2022, Khan has been entangled in several political tussles with the government and establishment. It began with the passing of the no-confidence motion resulting in the removal of his government. Following this, Khan took a hard stance against the incumbent government, the establishment and other institutions and blamed them for his removal from office and alleged that there was a foreign hand in the matter. However, the latter three came down hard on Khan as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chiefs accused him of a false foreign conspiracy narrative and the Election Commission of Pakistan issued verdicts against him. On the threat to his life, Khan claimed he was aware of the conspiracy for a while. Previously, during a jalsa in September, he claimed that there was a plot to assassinate him and frame it as a religiously motivated attack.
Second, the deadlock over the FIR. The Punjab police took four days to file an FIR for the incident due to several political reasons. To begin with, Khan refused to withdraw the name of a senior army officer from the complaint. Further, Punjab’s ruling coalition partners and Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi were deadlocked over the inclusion of the army officer’s name from the complaint and insisted that it be dropped. And, the Punjab police's denial of having received any FIR application from the PTI and the Punjab inspector general’s decision to quit the Punjab government. These delays and deadlock raised questions regarding institutional exceptionalism as well as accountability and transparency of investigations.
Third, the Supreme Court’s intervention. The delay in the registration of an FIR drew the attention and intervention of the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) warning of taking suo moto notice if the FIR of the attack was not registered within 24 hours. However, the CJP’s observations were politicised as the PTI and the government interpreted them differently. While the PTI saw it as the “first steps towards justice,” the government emphasised the legal uncertainty and pointed out that the CJP had only asked the IG Punjab “to act in accordance with law” and that the observations were not binding. Thus, the Supreme Court was forced to both intervene in the matter and also disregard it once it did.
First, the political turmoil in Pakistan. The assassination attempt comes at a time when the country is reeling under political, economic, and institutional crises along with the challenge of recovering from the worst climate-induced floods in Pakistan. This incident has only deepened the uncertainty generated by political unrest and turmoil.
Second, Khan’s fight against the government. The assassination attempt is likely to intensify Khan’s calls for early elections, clarity on the US cipher, and a probe into his removal. Additionally, with the PTI’s march being weaponised, the demonstration would intensify and adopt a harder stance.
Third, the violation of rule of law. The developments following the incident have become highly politicised and violate the rule of law. The delay in filing an FIR, and the intervention of the Supreme Court are instances where the rule of law is being violated.