FIRST things first. Nobody can condemn enough a violent attempt to physically harm or kill a political leader regardless of the severity of disagreement with their views. One can only be relieved and grateful Imran Khan is on the road to recovery after surgeons patched up his bullet and bullet fragment injuries that included a fracture in his leg.
During his first live address to supporters from the hospital, after surviving the attempt on his life, with his fractured right leg up in a cast on a chair, the PTI leader blamed the prime minister, the interior minister and DG C, ISI, for the attempt on his life and called on supporters to protest daily till the three resign.
He reiterated his earlier warning that if peaceful change was not facilitated then there will be a bloody revolution like Iran, as he went through each element of his multi-point narrative honed to perfection over the course of the past few years and fine-tuned to account for his ouster from office in a vote of no-confidence in April this year.
Apart from this rather repetitive message that has been beamed to his support base with telling effect for the past several months, there were two significant points to be picked up from his long statement. The first was that he was putting his ‘long march’ on hold till he was back to full fitness to lead it again.
We may be right in assuming that the PTI’s march is not likely to resume before the new year, if at all it does.
Medical experts put the period of recovery from a fractured tibia, the ‘shin bone’ at up to 20 weeks but in no case less than a couple of months. During the healing phase, doctors say, walking or standing ie anything that involves putting weight on the affected leg/bone is not allowed so the patient is grounded.
We may then be right in assuming that the march is not likely to resume before the new year, if at all it does resume. By then, whatever decision about the office of the chief of army staff will have been taken and at least on that one crucial front which has been often cited as the cause of many a political convulsion in the country, any anxiety ought to have ended.
In turn, that would also mean that in the event a fresh election demand were to make headway, no such exercise would be possible before early summer at the soonest and possibly even later say June/July or August. Barring, of course, dramatic, unforeseen developments. This to me was the most important takeaway from the Khan address.
The second significant factor was that even as he named a key figure of a services intelligence agency, Mr Khan and later some of his party men such as Asad Umar were not citing the entire high command such as the COAS or even the DG ISI for the attack, let alone the institution.
If this was a tactical move it made little sense, in fact, looked naïve, because in an ostensibly disciplined institution it would be pretty nigh impossible for a two-star to so blatantly go on a solo flight, without risking his career; he would not last a day in his job if his alleged actions or activities came to light.
An almost unprecedented written ISPR response that followed Mr Khan’s address confirmed that. It mentioned the ‘PTI chairman’, as it strongly rebutted his allegations, terming them baseless and irresponsible, and made clear the institution stood firmly behind the named officer. The ISPR statement added the government has been requested to investigate the matter and initiate legal action “against those responsible for defamation and false accusations against the institution and its officials without any evidence whatsoever”.
By the time these lines appear in print, you shall have received such a vast amount of information as well as disinformation, allegations and ‘expert’ opinion on that much-videoed firing incident that there is no point in recounting that again.
But one fact that hasn’t received due attention and warrants a mention was how quickly and professionally the 1122 paramedic rushed to the front of the trailer platform where Mr Khan and some of the other injured were, of course, assisted by an expeditious exit from that platform by some PTI leaders.
The 1122 trained emergency medical response teams were Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi’s initiative in the same tenure he was telling all and sundry that he was committed to getting Gen Pervez Musharraf elected president in uniform.
Even today he fits the ‘win some, lose some’ idiom. A case in point is his reported reluctance to register a police case (FIR) against all those named by the man Mr Elahi currently calls his leader and avowedly sees as a panacea for all that ails us.
To refocus on the attempt on the PTI leader’s life, kudos to the paramedic who did brilliantly in giving the PTI leader high-quality first aid, that enabled him to be driven the 100 or so kilometres to Lahore and his own hospital with his trusted surgeons and not the nearest emergency unit.
From where we stand today, it is clear the Khan narrative is effective, is being beamed professionally and winning. Whether it is the government or other institutions they appear clueless about how to counter it.
We seem a million miles away from March this year and Mr Khan seems to have pushed the Sharifs off the coveted pole position for any electoral race as things stand. The Sharifs have their work cut out if they are to claw back their top ratings in Punjab.
Finally, events from 2016 onwards particularly have been disastrous for the country. That those events have led to politicisation of key appointments to powerful security institutions is a matter of alarm and regret. Is it a forlorn hope that some lessons may have been learnt?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2022