Former Pakistan cricket hero and politician Imran Khan has survived a reported assassination attempt in Gujranwala.
Shots were fired at a bulletproof vehicle carrying the 61-year-old leader of the opposition, while crowds also threw stones. No-one was believed to be injured, but the incident sparked widespread clashes between Khan’s supporters and those of current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Khan, who played 48 Tests and 139 ODIS as captain of the Men in Green, entered politics following his retirement and has been a controversial figure ever since in his homeland.
Indeed, that reputation has not only been confined to his politics, after he admitted to ball-tampering in an interview after his retirement. He was also later involved in legal disputes with former England players Sir Ian Botham and Allan Lamb, but was popular during his time in the sport, winning Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1983.
However, he is chiefly remembered for leading Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, taking the winning wicket in the final, having already established himself as one of the most fruitful batsmen of the tournament.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is led and was founded by Khan in 1996, accused Sharif’s party or orchestrating recent violence, particularly in the capital, Islamabad.
PTI supporters have been marching on the town in opposition to the current government, who describe the protests as an attack on democracy. Tens of thousands have been taking part in demonstrations across the country; Khan and his party have a particularly strong rapport with Pakistan’s political youth.
It has been suggested that the growing tension will eventually lead to a military coup, though observers believe that is unlikely with General Raheel Sharif in charge of the army. Khan’s party are not thought to be in a strong enough position currently to win an election.
"A cowardly attack"
He is attracting increasing attention for his latest actions as Pakistan’s political situation becomes ever more volatile. The PTI have recently renewed accusations that PM Sharif came to power through the rigging of elections held in May 2013. The polls were reported as legitimate nonetheless by a number of national and international actors.
Now, the party’s vice-president Shah Mahmood Qureshi has claimed in a statement that he has been given information that demonstrates the government have ordered the Punjab Police to attack the PTI’s leadership.
“It was a cowardly attack…it’s been quite some time that the rivalry between the two sides has been simmering”, Qureshi told The Daily Mail.