The shooting at Imran Khan’s container in Wazirabad during his 'Long March' is the latest in a relentless string of events that have taken Pakistan by storm. There has not been a moment’s respite in high drama and games of high stakes since the start of October 2021 when the army high command and Imran khan locked horns over the transfer of Lt General Faiz Hameed out of the ISI, and appointment of his successor Lt General Nadeem Anjum.
The mayhem unfolding does not seem to be controlled anymore (like Imran Khan’s dharna of 2014, or the 2017 dharna of TLP). Those had clear perpetrators and clear targets and could be supposedly leashed once aims were met (Faizabad case). Or, other events dictated temporary disbandment (APS Peshawar blast).
Behind those events, the masterminds were also united. Since October last year, though, no one can be sure of that unity. If anything, the ensuing and utterly unbelievable developments indicate anything but unity. But unity or lack thereof, events of 3 November suggest the game is fast getting out of everyone’s hands.
Everyone Is A Suspect In Pakistan
The chaos seems to be spiralling out of control—with too many actors in the play. Consider: in the immediate aftermath of the shooting there were but two conspiracy theories. The PTI laid it on the establishment and then added in the federal government for good measure. Anti-PTI groups immediately pointed at a self-created drama by Imran Khan—for reasons that he is a beneficiary and has been desirous of violence leading to anarchic conditions.
To be fair, Imran Khan has wished aloud for it—mentioning far too many times that if the present government is allowed to continue, Pakistan would become Sri Lanka. His Federal Finance Minister’s leaked audio instructing finance ministers of KP and Punjab to write letters defying IMF conditions so as to put in motion events that would lead to default, bears witness to the intense desire and willingness on part of Imran Khan to plunge the country into chaos.
This is further supported by the leaked audio of Ali Amin Gandapur talking of weapons and men for the long march, and statements from KP ministers about the right to self-defence in reference to the leaked audio. Therefore, it is difficult to blame those who are peddling this conspiracy theory.
It is also very difficult to criticise those who have jumped to the conclusion that the ISI was behind this attack—not least because Imran Khan has been alleging this since he was ousted in a no-confidence motion, but more importantly because the military’s intelligence agencies have throughout Pakistan’s history gone to every extent imaginable for political engineering.
Pakistan's Tryst With Religiously Inclined Lone-Wolf Assassins
But sometimes, things turn out to be simpler than these theories. Enter Left Muhammed Naveed, the young man who fired shots at Imran Khan’s container. He is now in custody, and his initial confessional statement leaked by the police opens up a shocking, and yet not altogether unexpected, possibility. The more facts are emerging about him, the more it seems a case of inflamed religious sentiments led to this attack, and neither was this a case of self-created narrative building drama, nor an attack on its Frankenstein’s monster by a beleaguered establishment.
In his statement, the self-confessed attacker Muhammed Naveed, a small-time thief and drug addict, has said that he tried to kill Imran because he would constantly compare himself with the Prophet Mohammed and was misleading a nation of 220 million. His confession and data/videos from his phone indicate he was influenced by sermons of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leaders Khadim Rizvi and his son Saad Rizvi. He would often listen to old sermons of late Dr Israr Ahmed, another religious demagogue who had decades ago declared Imran Khan an agent of the Jews sent to destroy Pakistan. Indeed, according to his statement, he was working in Saudi Arabia till a few months ago and returned because the Saudis had given recognition to Israel.
In a macabre twist of fate, the TLP was born after another lone ranger, Mumtaz Qadri was hanged for killing governor Salman Taseer in 2010 for alleged blasphemy. Qadri in turn was influenced by sermons of Barelvi clerics Qari Hanif and Ishtiaq Shah.
Pakistan's Game of Thrones Has Lost Its Plot
The problem in a country like Pakistan is that the use of religion for politics, especially the way Imran Khan was doing it, is definitely a double-edged sword. While in this ultra-conservative country religious gambits will convert many into his disciples, such gambits will certainly also inflame many others to the point of violence. This is simply not the first time it has happened. Anything that is perceived as disrespectful to Islam or Prophet Mohammed, can turn fatal. But Imran Khan has continued to play with this fire—and his statements are a matter of record.
If Muhammed Naveed was indeed a lone ranger inspired by the TLP, and none of the usual conspiratorial stakeholders including Imran Khan himself or his now nemesis ‘the establishment’ are involved, then descent into chaos has begun. Many would argue it began with the assassination of Taseer.
I would say no. The difference this time is this: in Taseer’s case, there were no other suspects—no one had any motive—personal or political.
But in Imran Khan’s case, a Game of Thrones was already on. The actors were all in play. But a lone religious fanatic outsider, distinct from the current players but born nonetheless of their earlier games, became a spoiler and left them all gaping and befuddled and bemused. This is called loss of control.
One thing is for sure. When the 'miltablishment' in its infinite brilliance creates monsters, be they Imran Khans or Khadim Rizvis or Hafiz Saeeds etc, they almost never think of a waste management system for the future. Therefore, what we now have is a rainbow of religious, extremist, criminal, populist groups and pied pipers all of whom have begun to carve the path ahead into the abyss—with the state and citizens looking on aghast.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)