Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was in stable condition on Friday after being shot and wounded during a protest march the day before, a senior leader from his party said.
Khan’s protest march and rallies were peaceful until the afternoon attack on Thursday, when a gunman opened fire at his campaign truck. The shooting has raised concerns about growing political instability in Pakistan, a country with a history of political violence and assassinations.
One of Khan’s supporters was killed and 13 others, including two lawmakers, were wounded in the attack.
“There is no doubt about it,” said Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party. “We are convinced that it was a well-planned assassination attempt on Pakistan’s most popular leader Imran Khan, who is now in stable condition at the Shaukat Khanum hospital in Lahore after undergoing surgery there.”
He said the party leadership was meeting in Lahore later on Friday. “We will announce today exactly when our march will resume from Wazirabad,” Chaudhry told The Associated Press.
Asad Umar, a senior figure from Khan’s party, blamed the shooting on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the country’s interior minister, and an army general without offering any evidence.
The government called the allegation baseless, saying it has ordered a high-level probe and that the shooter, who was arrested at the scene of the attack, is being questioned. Police said they were still questioning the alleged attacker on Friday.
On Thursday, local police officials released a video showing the man. In the footage, he says he carried out the shooting and acted alone.
Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif on Friday said the Punjab government suspended the police officials who released the video to the media.
The attack took place as the former cricket star-turned-politician was traveling in a large protest convoy of trucks and cars toward the capital, Islamabad. Video footage shows him and his team ducking for cover on top of a vehicle as gunfire rings out.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said some political elements from Khan’s party were trying to create chaos in the country following the attack.
His comments came after scores of Khan’s supporters demonstrated in various parts of the country, with some chanting slogans against the military and vowing to avenge the shooting. The interior minister called the alleged gunman a “religious extremist” who had accused the ex-premier of comparing himself to prophets in some of his recent public speeches.
On Friday, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, a group of Khan’s supporters heading toward nearby Islamabad on Friday pelted police with stones. Officers used batons and fired tear gas to disperse them. Police detained some demonstrators near Islamabad.
In the eastern city of Lahore, Khan’s supporters damaged the main gate of the governor’s office. And in the southern port city of Karachi, where Sharif’s allies are in power, hundreds of Khan’s supporters clashed with police.
The violence erupted just hours before Khan was expected to hold a news conference to announce the future strategy for his march, which was halted after Thursday’s shooting in the town of Wazirabad.
Khan, 70, maintains that his April ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament was unlawful and a conspiracy by his political opponents orchestrated by the United States, a charge denied by both Washington and Sharif.
Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician, wants the government to announce early elections. His protest convoy started from Lahore last Friday with Khan and thousands of his supporters — in trucks, cars or on foot — marching toward Islamabad for what was to be an open-ended rally in the Pakistani capital.
Khan has said his protest will continue until his demands are accepted. Sharif’s government says elections will take place as scheduled, in 2023.