Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan said Friday in his first public address after surviving an apparent assassination attempt that he was hit by four bullets in his right leg and sustained a fracture.
The 70-year-old populist leader spoke from a hospital in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where he had surgery and was recovering from his injuries.
Khan was leading a pro-election rally of his opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party Thursday and waving to his supporters from atop a purpose-built truck when the shooting happened in Wazirabad, about 150 kilometers from the provincial capital. The attack killed a PTI supporter and injured 13 others, including a lawmaker.
While sitting in a wheelchair, Khan said in his hourlong televised address that two gunmen had tried to assassinate him.
“There was a burst from one side, and another coming from the front,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t have survived if the gunmen had “synchronized” their attack.
A man suspected of firing at the political rally was swiftly detained by police. In a leaked purported video confession, the detainee said he had acted alone and wanted to kill Khan for “misleading the public.”
Khan accused Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif along with the country’s interior minister and a senior military officer of plotting the attack, but he did not produce any evidence. He went on to demand the Pakistani army chief take action against what he called “black sheep” within the military and its intelligence services.
The opposition leader called on his supporters to stage street protests against the three top officials until they resign, making way for an impartial probe into the attempt on his life.
“As long as these three men don’t resign, you have to agitate and stand against injustice,” he said.
Federal Information Minister Marryam Aurangzeb swiftly refuted the charges.
“How Imran Khan, who has a government in Punjab where this incident took place, can demand [the] resignation of these three persons prior to any investigation into the matter,” Aurangzeb told a late-night news conference.
The PTI and an allied party govern the country’s most populous province.
The military’s media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), denounced Khan’s allegations against the security services as baseless and irresponsible.
“No one will be allowed to defame the [military] institution or its soldiers with impunity,” warned the ISPR.
The shooting angered Khan’s supporters, who again took to the streets across Pakistan on Friday, blocking roads and clashing with police in some cities. Security forces fired tear gas shells to prevent a large group of protesters from entering Islamabad and subsequently detained several of them.
Khan vowed to resume his protest march to the Pakistani capital once he recovers so he can press ahead with his campaign for early elections.
“I will take to the streets again as soon as I get well and will give a call to march on Islamabad,” he said.
The former prime minister was ousted from office in April through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, allowing the then-opposition leader, Sharif, to replace him and form a new coalition government.
But Khan rejected his ouster as illegal, saying it was orchestrated by the United States in collusion with Sharif and Pakistan’s powerful military. He has yet to substantiate his allegations with any evidence. Washington and Islamabad deny any role in his removal.
Khan has been able to mobilize tens of thousands of people at his anti-government rallies across Pakistan, where he has increasingly directed his criticism at the military for its alleged meddling in politics.
His growing popularity has enabled the PTI to sweep recent by-elections for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and the Punjab legislature, allowing Khan to step up pressure on the Sharif government to call for “snap” general elections.