Imran Khan assassination bid: Religion card is a double-edged sword

    The assassination attempt on former prime minister and, inarguably, one of the country’s most popular political leaders, Imran Khan, has sent shockwaves not just across Pakistan but the entire world, drawing strong reactions from the masses as well as global leaders.

    One person was killed and 14 others, including Khan, were injured after at least one gunman opened fire at the protest convoy of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as it passed through Wazirabad city of Gujranwala district on Thursday.

    Khan, who sustained multiple bullet injuries to his leg, was rushed to Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore for treatment where he is said to be in stable condition. However, the state of affairs in the country remains critical amid widespread protests following the PTI’s allegations against the government and an official of the country’s premier security agency.

    Authorities, on the other hand, have taken into custody the alleged shooter, who has already confessed to opening fire at Khan’s convoy.

    A video released shortly after the incident showed the suspect, namely Muhammad Naveed Basheer, saying that he had attacked the convoy with the sole intent of killing the former premier for “misleading the masses” and “committing blasphemy”.

    “Imran Khan is misleading the people so I thought to kill him. He is committing blasphemy every day by playing music and dancing at the time of Azaan… I just want to kill Imran Khan… I will not leave him,” he said in the video that immediately went viral.

    In another video statement released Friday, a visibly remorseless Basheer also said he wanted to kill Khan because he “claimed prophethood by comparing himself with prophets” since after launching an anti-government campaign following his ouster in April this year.

    “I listen to lectures of [the late Islamic scholar] Dr Israr Ahmed,” the suspect said and admitted to having a large cache of Tehreek-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Rizvi’s video sermons on his phone.

    If the statements by the alleged shooter are to be believed, the real culprit behind Thursday’s tragic incident is rather well-known to most Pakistanis. The culprit is especially known to the country’s vulnerable minority communities that have time and again stressed the need for the authorities to address the persisting wave of religious extremism in the country.

    While it is not the first time that a prominent political figure was targeted by someone who may or may not be using religion as a cover to justify their actions, as also witnessed in the cases of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Ahsan Iqbal ahead of the 2018 general election; those belonging to Pakistan’s religious minorities remain at a greater risk.

    Whether it be the government of then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that bowed before the violent protests of hardliner TLP in 2017 or repetitive negotiations between the ruling PTI and TLP after Christian blasphemy convict Asia Bibi’s acquittal; the PPP’s use of religion for political gains over PTI’s failure to establish its envisioned ‘State of Medina’ or Khan’s use of the term ‘shirk’ (polytheism) for his party’s dissenting members; former rights minister Shireen Mazari’s accusations against PML-N’s Miftah Ismail of “ridiculing basic Islamic concepts” or PML-N leader Capt (r) Safdar’s virulent tirade against Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmadi community in the National Assembly, the series of the repeated exploitation of the religion card by political parties and decades-long state patronage for extremist groups, has gone on to define the country’s current political landscape.

    These few instances of the widespread use of religion as a political tool mixed with the country’s Islamisation of the 70s and 80s was bound to be a recipe for disaster. The consequences of it all, we live every day as religiously-charged individuals or groups take the law into their own hands – going as far as to slaughter the voiceless victims of blasphemy allegations in Pakistan.

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