Who could’ve planned Imran Khan’s assassination

Spontaneous or premeditated?
With contradictory claims being made by the assailant responsible for the murderous attack on former Pakistan Prime Minster Imran Khan, and what his own party members are saying, the ‘who and why’ behind this shooting is certainly bound to create much debate. If what the alleged shooter is stating in a video leaked by the police is to be believed, then it’s clearly a personal and individual act. However, if one goes by what senior Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf [PTI] leader Fawad Chaudhry is claiming then it is “a planned assassination attempt.”

Questionable motives
In what appears to be confessional video recorded by law enforcing agencies after his apprehension, the assailant says, “I wanted to eliminate him because he [Imran Khan] was misleading the people. I tried to shoot him and nobody else….” While what he has said may well be true, certain issues related to this incident do cast a shadow of doubt.

One, attempting to close-in and assassinate an eminent personality in broad daylight and that too when he’s surrounded by several security personnel and a sea of supporters, making a getaway is near impossible. Accordingly, anyone embarking on such a suicidal mission would have reconcile with the fact that he could be either shot by the security detail or even lynched by the irate crowd. This requires extraordinary motivation.

Two, there’s no doubt that radical political, ideological or religious beliefs can cause momentary loss of rationality and make one act in a bizarre manner. However, in the video, the assailant has specifically said that I acted alone, nobody else is involved.” This claim as well as his “misleading the people” reasoning for the attack doesn’t sound very convincing, especially since misleading people is a common trait in all politicians, that all of us have learned to live with.

Similarly, PTI’s claim of it being “a planned assassination attempt” too is hard to believe for a host of reasons. Senior PTI members Asad Umar and Mian Aslam Iqbal have stated that “He [Imran Khan] believes there are three people on whose behest this was done – Shehbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah and Maj Gen Faisal [Naseer].” This allegation has substance, especially since the ISI has long been suspected of orchestrating targeted extra-judicial killings.

Having mastered the art of covering its tracks, the ISI has never been indicted on this account. So, seeing the clumsy manner in which the ‘hitman’ went about trying to kill Khan and allowed himself to be apprehended lacks the characteristic finesse of ISI’s covert operations. So, ISI’s involvement in this assassination attempt appears unlikely.

One or more attackers?
As per media reports, only one assailant armed with a pistol was involved in the assassination bid. According to media reports, he had emptied a complete magazine and besides Khan sustaining “multiple bullet injuries” in his leg, the attacker managed to kill one person and injure another 14. He was in the process of replacing the empty magazine when he was apprehended.

Even a pistol with a high-capacity magazine can house a maximum of 14 bullets. Since the attacker had fired only a magazine which caused a total of 16 fatal and non-fatal casualties, it emerges that not only every bullet fired by him hit someone, but at least two bullets had injured more than one person. Though theoretically possible, such accuracy with a pistol in a melee is well nigh very difficult to achieve.

PTI leader Chaudhary has however alleged that “It was not 9MM [pistol], it was a burst from [an] automatic weapon,” and speaking to Bol TV, PTI leader Imran Ismail said that the attacker who fired at Khan was wielding an AK 47. Surprisingly, there has been no subsequent mention of an AK 47 rifle being used in the assassination bid, but since its magazine holds 30 bullets, there being 16 casualties lends weight to the claim of an AK 47 being used. So, could it be that besides the apprehended pistol wielding man, there was another assassin with an AK 47, who managed to escape? Could the man apprehended be a gullible person intentionally planted to act as a decoy?

Who benefits?
Since Khan has been critical of both the government and Pakistan Army, the finger of suspicion does point at them. However, both know that any attempt to physically harm Khan would be tantamount to making him a ‘martyr’ and only further enhance the PTI chief’s popularity. So, who would really benefit from a murderous attack on Khan?

For one, it could be PTI itself as an assassination attempt would earn it public sympathy as well as further demonise the government and Rawalpindi. However, since it involved putting the PTI chief’s life in danger, using this perilous ploy merely to earn goodwill and put down the PML-N government and the Pakistan Army doesn’t make any sense. Yet, let’s not forget that when it comes to politics, anything is possible.

Next, we have the political parties. There’s no doubt that Khan has emerged as the ‘hero’ of the masses and the opposition knows that he can effectively use agitation as a tool for arm-twisting Rawalpindi into agreeing to his demand for early elections. Should this happen, then Khan’s electoral victory is assured, yet while opposition parties would theoretically have an interest in his extinction, the humongous negative backlash would act as a deterrent. Conversely, with the ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ approach being the hallmark of politicians, for them to play with fire is no big deal!

Lastly, we come to Rawalpindi and ISI. Beleaguered by public anger against its highhandedness and exercising power without responsibility, Pakistan Army has everything to lose by orchestrating the assassination of Imran Khan. So, it’s unlikely that the assassination could have been explicitly ‘sanctioned’ by it. However, it’s no secret that under the veneer of professional integrity and unity, the Pakistan Army is plagued by internal divisions driven by the lust for power and commercial interests.

So, could it be possible that Khan’s unconcealed preferences for some Generals as well as disdain for others may have been perceived by some ‘power centre’ as a threat to its fiefdom? Accordingly, could such a rogue group within ISI have considered it expedient to remove Khan from the scene to preserve its turf? Though this course of action would have its adverse implications at the national level, it wouldn’t directly impact the perpetrators and hence has a reasonable degree of plausibility.

But there is one thing about this option that somehow doesn’t gel. If some coterie within the ISI is involved, then why did it employ a greenhorn for this ‘hit’ in the first place and arm him with just a pistol, which is a weapon that can only fire single shots and not an AK rifle which can fire rapid bursts? Secondly, why didn’t the masterminds incorporate a backup plan of silencing the assassin to avoid his apprehension and subsequently spilling the beans.

Or was it just meant to be a mafia-type warning for Khan?     

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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