Pakistan stands on the brink of crisis after the attempted assassination of former prime minister Imran Khan last week. Khan was in Punjab province last Thursday leading one of his increasingly large and frequent protest marches when a gunman shot him in the legs.
He says that the plot to kill him involved the caretaker prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, the interior minister and a senior army intelligence officer. It would be no surprise if Khan’s allegations were true.
Since his removal as prime minister in April, Khan has led a growing street movement that has pulled thousands of people into its ranks. He was dismissed after losing a parliamentary confidence vote when his governing coalition split. The move reflected widespread disappointment with Khan and the failure of his promises to the poor.
Many thought that would be the end of his political career. But Khan has since tapped into growing anger at Pakistan’s economic turmoil, a lasting hatred of US imperialism and widespread contempt for the political establishment. The recent floods, and the state’s inability to manage the resulting humanitarian crisis, have only broadened his appeal.
Inflation is running at just under 30 percent and the state’s foreign currency reserves are depleted. So the government has again been forced into the hands of the International Monetary Fund. The lender is now seriously worried that widespread protests could disrupt its “fiscal adjustment strategy”—code for a huge wave of public spending cuts and privatisations.
Khan’s street protests demand new elections immediately, rather than in August next year, as a way of addressing the crisis. That has the state worried that he could return to office and then set about “cleansing” his opponents in the political and military machinery.
But not all of Khan’s opponents are so embedded in the elite. The right wing Islamist party Tehree-e-Labbaik (TLP) would also like to see him gone. Its members are known for using charges of blasphemy against opponents in a bid to win votes, and assassinations are part of its strategy.
Naveed Ahmed, who police accuse of attempting to kill Khan, had a range of TLP videos saved on his phone. When questioned, Ahmed said he acted because “Imran Khan thinks he is the Prophet”.
That “evidence” may be a little too convenient for Khan as he seeks to turn anger against the establishment. But it wouldn’t be the first time that the state and right wing groups have shared a common interest.
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