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Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf Imran Khan addressing a press conference at a local hotel.—Online Photo
Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf Imran Khan addressing a press conference at a local hotel.—Online Photo

KARACHI: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan has confirmed speculations doing the rounds in the country in the run-up to the May 11 elections that there was a plot to assassinate him and that the fall off a forklift at a Lahore rally on May 7 that nearly killed him “had quite possibly saved my life”.

In an article carried by Britain’s MailOnline on Sunday, Mr Khan wrote he had been told he was number one on the terrorist hit-list. There are perhaps 25 militant groups which call themselves ‘Taliban’ and any one of them could have been hired by his political opponents.

Mr Khan said there had already been damaging allegations, including the claim that he was part of a Zionist conspiracy to take over Pakistan. “It was a dangerous allegation, and one that sounds crazy given my vehement opposition to drone strikes and the so-called war on terror. But the threat to my life was all too real.

“It is an irony, then, that a serious assassination attempt was prevented only by an accident and the fact that I spent the closing days of the Pakistan election campaign in a hospital bed.

“The fall that nearly killed me quite possibly saved my life.”

He wrote the meeting where he fell was the first of nine rallies scheduled for that night. “The following day I was supposed to be speaking at a further 13 [rallies], spaced along the old Grand Trunk Road from Lahore to Islamabad.”

“We were drawing massive crowds…and we didn’t have the means to handle the spontaneous exuberance of the crowds.

“We were losing control. The authorities had already warned me that my life was at risk, and I had been given the highest level of police security.

“One safety measure was having me speak from a platform about 24 feet above ground. This provided some protection from a potential bomb blast.

“There were no steps, so instead a forklift truck was used to raise me up to the small platform to speak…The forklift rose in a series of jerks and the security men surrounding me formed a barrier. This meant I could not see there wasn’t a guard rail around the platform.

“Losing my balance, I leant over to where I thought the safety barrier would be – and grasped at thin air. I somersaulted downwards, landing on my back from a height of about 18ft…I was lucky to be alive.”

The PTI leader said his great fear as he lay in his hospital bed was that he was going to be paralysed.

“I’ve never known a life where I wasn’t in control of my body. I found myself prey to morbid thoughts, something completely out of character. I thought in particular about the victims of drone attacks and terrorist bombs. We always hear about the dead, not so much [about] those who end up maimed. That was my great fear: not death, but being disabled.

“…CT scans showed I had indeed come very close to being paralysed. The bullet-proof vest I’d started wearing only a few days earlier had acted as a cushion, and absorbed some of the shock of the fall.”

Mr Khan said there was something else, too: “If I hadn’t been in hospital I could have been dead. [The interior] minister came to visit and told me of an assassination attempt scheduled for the day after my fall.”

“At the same time,” Mr Khan points out, “it was frustrating. We were coming to the end of the biggest election campaign in Pakistani history, and we had touched the hearts of the masses.

“…There is much to be optimistic about. Yet the discovery that I had avoided an assassination plot serves to illustrate that Pakistan’s multiple crises are as serious and threatening as ever.

“To begin with, there is no doubt that this was the most rigged election in Pakistan’s history, an election in which every party that participated has alleged massive fraud was committed. We know this to be true.

“…it was the first election to be conducted by an independent judiciary. We had thumbprint IDs on ballot slips. But sadly the judicial officers became part of the problem.”

Mr Khan said that Pakistan’s biggest impediment to moving forward and achieving its potential was terrorism. Yet the country was unable to tackle the underlying causes: the war in Afghanistan and the drone strikes.

“Each drone attack, each operation against militants in tribal areas leads to more Pakistani dead, and the level of violence, along with a surge in extremism, will lead to a radicalisation of our society. It will only diminish when Pakistan starts to control its own territory and its destiny again, and disengages from this American-led war.

“Yet I still have hope. Once again, I face each new day with excitement. I was hugely cheered when Nato General Nick Carter said recently that we should have been talking to the Taliban 10 years ago. That’s what I’ve been saying for many years – the only way out of this crisis, and to rebuild our country, is to reach a political settlement.”