Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot on Sunday in an attempted assassination attempt. Per a police report, the would-be assassin has been linked to the extremist Barelvi Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party. The 21-year-old shooter, Abid Hussain, is reportedly affiliated with the party, which, among other issues, has emphasized its support for the enforcement of Pakistan’s laws on blasphemy.
Hussain shot Iqbal following a meeting on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. local time. According to a report by the deputy commissioner of Gujranwala division, the attacker “took advantage of the rush gathered around the minister” following a speech and fired a shot that grazed Iqbal’s arm. Iqbal survived and was transported to a hospital. Hussain was immediately apprehended by security personnel accompanying Iqbal, per the police report.
Despite Hussain’s reported affiliation with TLP, the party’s leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi condemned the attack in a statement and noted that there was no central guidance issued to its followers to attack members of the current Pakistani government. The police report said that Hussain had “showed his affiliation” to the party. Pakistani authorities have not yet assigned a motive to the attack.
The attack on Iqbal could presage the onset of violence ahead of Pakistan’s 2018 general elections, which are scheduled for July. Though Hussain’s motives remain unclear, Iqbal is a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, aligned with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Sharif said that the attack was likely a result of the government’s role in reaching an arrangement with TLP protesters over a sit-in in Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange in late 2017.
TLP protesters were paid off by the Pakistani government following mediation by the military. Following the resolution of the standoff, Iqbal had tweeted that “Civil & military leadership acted collectively [to] save the country from [the] threat of religion based violence. We must heal wounds [to] unite nation.”
TLP, which was formed in 2015, rose to prominence in early 2016 when it mobilized massive crowds in Islamabad to protest the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, who was sentenced to death for killing the former government of Punjab, Salman Taseer. The party represents the interests of Barelvi Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, who comprise a majority of Pakistani Sunnis.
Pakistani authorities are continuing to investigate the attack on Iqbal. The Punjab Home Department convened a joint investigative team on Monday to further probe Hussain’s motives.