Imran Khan's party resumes stalled long march

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Lahore: Tens of thousands of supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Thursday gathered at the site in Wazirabad in Punjab province where an assassination attempt was made on the former prime minister last week as the party resumed its stalled long march to Islamabad in presence of its top leaders.

The ‘Haqeeqi Azadi’ (real freedom) march, demanding fresh general elections, was suspended following the attack on 70-year-old Khan on November 3.

Khan suffered bullet injuries in the right leg when two gunmen fired a volley of bullets at him and others standing on a container-mounted truck in the Wazirabad area, where he was leading the march.

He underwent surgery for bullet injuries at the Shaukat Khanum Hospital owned by his charitable organisation. He is advised to take rest for four to six weeks by doctors.

Addressing his supporters via a video, Khan alleged that the “plan” to assassinate him was made in September.

“This incident (…) no, this planned assassination attempt … I want to clear that this plan was made in September,” he claimed. “On September 24, I said in a public rally that this plan was formed and that they will blame a religious fanatic [for it].”

Khan, who is recovering from injuries, said that the people who wanted him dead had planned to pin his murder on a “religious fanatic”.

“They planned that if a religious fanatic kills me, the responsibility from them will go away,” he claimed.

Khan has blamed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Major General Faisal Naseer of hatching a plot to assassinate him.

He made a passionate appeal to Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial to look into a series of matters to put the country’s direction right during his speech.

“The nation is looking up to the CJP. Look as an ex-prime minister I cannot register an FIR regarding attack on me. Chief Justice of Pakistan… I want you to take action,” he pleaded and urged him to take notice of journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder, Senator Azam Swati’s torture and non registration of a case against suspects of attack on him.

Khan alleged that the investigation agencies are in the hands of thieves, a reference to the Sharif and Zardari families.

“Who can trust these army officers (like Maj-Gen Faisal Naseer and etc),” Khan said, adding that the nation has lost “complete trust in the institutions” and now all eyes are on the Supreme Court.

“Pakistan is going to become a banana republic as there is no rule of law (in the country)…chief justice you will have to save the country. The country’s future lies in your (CJP) hands,” Khan asserted.

Leading the march in the absence of Khan, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi earlier said that the party chairman would soon join his supporters in the long march to Islamabad.

“Today I want to give a clear message that the convoy of PTI is on the move. If you want to create a Pakistan of a new ideology, then you have to accompany Imran Khan,” Qureshi, flanked by other party leaders including Hammad Azhar, Faisal Javed, Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry among others, told marchers in Wazirabad, some 150 kms from Lahore.

Faisal Javed was among those injured in the attack on Khan.

Qureshi said that despite an assassination attempt on Khan, his party didn’t bow or give up on its struggle for freedom.

“Today, we had the option to either stand behind the bullet proof glass or in front of it… And we have chosen the latter…We have decided to look you in the eye. We have decided to tell you that PTI didn’t bow and will never do it …No matter what comes,” Qureshi told supporters.

Senior party leader Asad Umar said that no one could scare Khan or his followers.

“Exactly a week from today, an attempt was made to take Imran Khan’s life…But let me tell you today, it was not an attempt to take one man’s life, it was an attempt to silence the nation’s voice,” he said.

The long march resumed with prayers for those killed and injured in the shooting.

More than 20,000 policemen have been deployed at the march to provide protection to the protesters.

“Special security arrangements have been made to secure the container of the top leadership of the PTI,” senior leader and Punjab minister Bashrat Raja told PTI on Thursday.

On Sunday, Khan had announced resumption of the long march on Tuesday but later the party changed the decision and rescheduled it for Thursday. He would join the long march in Rawalpindi when it reaches there in 10 to 14 days.

During a meeting presided by Khan at his Lahore residence on Wednesday, it was decided that the “Haqeeqi Azadi” march would move towards Rawalpindi from the spot following a public gathering.

The federal government has not yet granted permission to PTI to hold its rally in Islamabad.

A three-member probe panel would be formed on Thursday, which will provide details of the investigation done by local police to the joint investigation team.

One person was killed and 11 others, including Khan, were injured in the attack during the long march.

The PML-N-led government says Khan’s long march to Islamabad is aimed at appointing an army chief of his own choice. Incumbent Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is retiring later this month.

Meanwhile, Khan’s sons Qasim Khan and Suleman Khan arrived in Lahore on Thursday from the United Kingdom to meet their father.

They were received by the PTI leaders at the Lahore airport. The party said they were eager to see their father in the wake of assassination attempt on him last week.

The cricketer-turned-politician, who was ousted as prime minister in april this year after a no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly, is seeking fresh general elections in Pakistan.

However, the federal government led by Prime Minister Sharif is opposed to holding elections now. The term of the current National Assembly will end in August 2023.

The political turmoil in Pakistan comes as it reels from the economic crisis and the effects of devastating floods.


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