Pakistan Reader# 394, 10 November 2022
The assassination attempt
On 3 November, Imran Khan was shot at and injured, in what comes across as an assassination attempt. The suspect was standing in front of the container that carried Imran Khan and the senior party leaders, and “showered” an array of bullets with an automatic pistol during the PTI's ‘Haqeeqi Azadi’ march in Wazirabad, Punjab. Imran Khan endured multiple bullet injuries on his leg but was reported to be stable after being shifted to a hospital in Lahore. After his operation, he mentioned that he was “fine” and said that he would continue with the long march and reach Islamabad.
Witnesses maintained that the suspected assailant “fired an entire round of the bullet magazine” but was stopped by a PTI supporter before the suspect could load a second round. The suspect was detained soon after the shots were fired. The attack is claimed to be “targeted” and “well-planned” by other PTI leaders and supporters, with extensive condemnation from across the country. The suspect, in a video statement apparently leaked by the police, claimed that he had “only” planned to kill Imran Khan as soon as the long march commenced from Lahore. The suspect said that Imran Khan was “misguiding people” and that he planned the conspiracy by himself.
Responses from Imran Khan and other leaders
Following the attack, leaders including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack and asked the interior minister for a report on the matter. Protests commenced immediately after the assassination attempt, with PTI leaders and supporters taking to the streets in cities across the country to condemn and criticise the incident. PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhary alleged that the attack was a “planned assassination attempt” and that Imran Khan had escaped narrowly. He said that the attack was planned to kill the “leadership” of the PTI. PTI President Yasmin Rashid also spoke of the attack and stated that “Imran Khan is our red line” and the government has “crossed” it.
Soon after the attack, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar, in a statement, said that Imran Khan was safe and had led a message that he had “prior information” about the attack and held three senior government and military officials responsible for the same. Umar said that Imran Khan wanted the three officials to be “removed” from their offices or see a country-wide protest. Punjab senior minister, however, said that an FIR would be lodged against the three officials named by Imran Khan and said that an application and a statement were being submitted by the Punjab police chief.
The controversy of the FIR
The issue of the FIR was delayed due to differences between Imran Khan and the provincial government, as Imran Khan wanted to nominate PM Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Major General Faisal Naseer in the complaint. The Punjab government and its police were “reluctant” to include these names, as it would have the serving army general in the complaint. The delay in the FIR registration also underlines the turbulence Imran Khan faces with Chief Minister Parvez Elahi, as he tried to “convince” Imran Khan to reconsider his complaint. Imran Khan complained that the Punjab police were “refusing” to register his complaint, while the Inspector General (IG)of the police said that the PTI’s allies were “creating hurdles.”
The stalemate in the registration of the FIR comes as Imran Khan refuses to withdraw the names of senior officers, the prime minister, and the interior minister from his complaint. The PTI chairman said that the delay in the registration of the FIR is questionable and that the senior officials were “hatching a conspiracy to kill him”. He expressed the “adamant” nature of the police to refuse to register the complaint, and raised concerns over the credibility of the justice system.
The Supreme Court’s intervention
On 7 November, the Supreme Court instructed the Punjab police chief to register a first information report (FIR) on the incident within 24 hours. The FIR saw a delay also due to Imran Khan’s prior infringing on the SC’s order on 25 May, which had defined the limits for PTI’s Long March gathering at the time. A bench, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), sought an investigation into the delay of the filing of the FIR, with the CJP warning of taking a suo motu notice if the FIR was not registered. The CJP questioned the Punjab police, asking for a “concrete reason” for the delay.
Further, he added that nearly four days had passed since the attack and the lack of an FIR would limit the investigation of the attack. The CJP remarked that the police need to be accountable and that the criminal justice system and “delivery of justice” should be their topmost priority. He expressed his criticism sternly, saying that the SC would be with the police if they work according to the law. He said, “there was an attempt to kill a national leader. Investigate, collect evidence and get a forensic conducted.”
Final filing of the FIR and what it means
On 8 November, the provincial police of Punjab registered the attack on Imran Khan under terrorism charges, with the detained suspect being nominated as the prime accused assailant. The FIR was lodged after experiencing a delay of nearly four days. The FIR did not mention the names of any senior officials, including PM Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a senior military officer in the complaint, that Imran Khan nominated be in the complaint. The senior government and military men were nominated in an application filed by a PTI leader, for the registration of the case. The IG blamed the delay in the filing on CM Parvez Elahi but was hit back by Moonis Elahi, son of CM Elahi, that the IG was “stopping” the registration of the case because of “unknown persons,” hinting at the government. The complaint saw a delay with the applicant “hesitating” to drop it off at the police station, saying that the applicant wanted his party intended to keep the contents of the application “secret due to sensitivity to the matter.”
On 8 November, Dawn in an editorial stated that the standstill of the FIR registration raises questions about the institutional exceptionalism of Pakistan. The unwarrantable delay in the complaint was proved to be unnecessary, with the insistence of Imran Khan’s nomination of a senior intelligence official becoming a major barrier to the registration of the complaint. The precedence of this delay raises concerns over the directives of the justice system in the country. While also complicating the issue further, Imran Khan incessantly accused the government’s involvement in the attack, with little evidence to back his claims. This deadlock seemed to be an opportunity for Imran Khan to settle his previous scores against his political rivals. The issue, however, withdraws the right of truth entitled to the people of the country, where their reservations and curiosity behind the assassination attempt, motives, and other moves cannot be sustained without a proper investigation probe.
Mansoor Malik, “Attempt on Imran Khan’s life shocks nation,” Dawn, 4 November 2022
Haseeb Bhatti, “SC warns of suo motu notice if FIR of attack on Imran not registered in 24 hours,” Dawn, 7 November 2022
Nasir Iqbal, “Police finally register FIR over attack on PTI chief following SC intervention,” Dawn, 8 November 2022
“Imran says deep state in Pakistan controlled everything,” The Express Tribune, 8 November 2022