LAHORE / NAROWAL: Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal narrowly escaped an assassination attempt during a corner meeting in his constituency in Narowal on Sunday — an act that was condemned by prominent individuals, political parties and other institutions in the country, which is set to go to the polls in a few months’ time.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) retired Capt Arif Nawaz told Dawn that they had arrested a suspect, a 22-year-old man, from the spot in the Kanjroor town of the Shakargarh tehsil, who confessed to opening fire on the minister due to the Khatm-i-Nubuwat issue.
The IGP said they were also investigating involvement in the incident of any facilitators.
IGP says suspect has been arrested and is being interrogated
A couple of months ago, a shoe was hurled at Interior Minister Ahsan at a PML-N workers’ convention in Narowal, his hometown.
District Police Officer (DPO) Imran Kishwar told reporters the suspect — Abid Husain, a resident of nearby Verum village — had managed to slip into the corner meeting. He apparently carried a 30-bore weapon, which he pulled out and fired at the minister from a distance of some 15 yards. The incident happened moments after Mr Iqbal had finished his speech.
The police officer said the minister suffered a bullet wound in his right shoulder, whereas later reports said the bullet had landed in Mr Iqbal’s abdomen after grazing his arm.
He was rushed to the District Headquarters Hospital, Narowal. Witnesses and police said the minister was lucky in that the people standing around him overpowered the assailant before he could fire a second shot at his target.
The policemen then arrested the suspect, seized the weapon and shifted him to a police station.
The DHQ hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Muhammad Younus, said the bullet had fractured Mr Iqbal’s arm before hitting him in his abdomen area.
The minister was later airlifted to the Services Hospital, Lahore, to undergo surgery.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who was present at the airport when the helicopter carrying the patient landed there, said in a tweet that Mr Iqbal was in high spirits.
Police had increased security at the hospital and high-ups visited the medical facility to check the security arrangements.
Punjab Minister Zaeem Qadri told media personnel that doctors were conducting a procedure to take out the bullet from the minister’s abdomen. He said Mr Iqbal was conscious and talking to people around him.
State Minister for Interior Tallal Chaudhry confirmed the arrest and criticised a court order regarding reduction in security for prominent individuals.
Ahmed Iqbal, the minister’s son, urged the nation to pray for his father’s recovery.
The attack, along with condemnations, brought back fearful memories of the last general elections, in 2013. Violence and threats in the lead-up to the polls had then prevented many major political parties, including the PPP, ANP and MQM, from freely canvassing for votes.
The security situation would most probably be on top of the agenda for the meeting of the PML-N convened on Monday.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi condemned the attack. Mr Abbasi also issued directives to the Punjab IGP to submit a report on the incident.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Punjab chief minister called the interior minister and inquired about his health.
Maryam Nawaz said in a tweet: “Shooter is only a vehicle. Those patronising them, those inciting them for political gains & those using them to settle scores real CULPRITS.”
Pakistan Peoples Party’s chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and PML-Q’s Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi also condemned the attack. “We have to put a stop to such incidents,” said Mr Zardari.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman expressed regrets at the incident and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah condemned it.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) also condemned the attack on the minister.
“Political differences notwithstanding, physical targeting of any politician is simply not acceptable. Sadly, intolerance and violence are becoming endemic in our society,” Shireen Mazari said in a tweet.
Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq demanded that the hidden elements behind the incident be uncovered.
Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa condemned the incident and sent his best wishes for Mr Iqbal’s early recovery.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2018