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Is the attack on Iqbal a repercussion of governments’ dubious policy against the controversial religious outfits?

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News Analysis |

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal survived an assassination attempt at the end of a corner meeting in his constituency NA-117 Narowal. Iqbal came under attack when he was entering his vehicle to leave the rally ground in tehsil Kanjrur.

The attacker was identified as Abid Hussain who shot at the minister from a distance of 15-yards and wounded him. The assailant was about to pull the trigger again before he was nabbed by the PML-N supporters and security officials. A bullet hit Iqbal at his shoulder. After piercing the shoulder, the bullet reportedly entered his abdomen. Iqbal underwent two operations, but bullet was not removed as it poses no threat to ministers’ life.

He immediately was taken to the DHQ-Narowal for initial treatment before being airlifted to Lahore’s Services hospital through CM’s helicopter. He is out of danger, conscious and recovering at the hospital.

Government’s failure apparently reflects the power of religious outfits in this country, where politicians face the brunt of the law, but religious leaders are spared.

At the behest of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PML-N President and Chief minister, under the supervision of IGP- Captain (retd) Arif Nawaz Khan, an investigation is underway into the incident. PM had issued directives to the Punjab IGP to submit a report on the incident.

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The condemnation of the incident poured in from all quarters. The heads of all the political parties including Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto, and Siraj ul Haq condemned the cowardly attack on the minister.

Initial reports have confirmed that assailant was affiliated to Tehreek-e-Labaik group. Reacting to the incident, Tehreek-e-Labaik leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, condemned the attack in a statement and distanced himself from the incident.

Rizvi stated that his party had not authorized any of its workers to unlawfully attack the minister. Attacker’s family has also shown surprise at the incident and informed the media that he left home without sharing his plans with anyone.

The heads of all the political parties including Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto, and Siraj ul Haq condemned the cowardly attack on the minister.

The unfortunate incident questions the security arrangements of public gatherings and the need for devising a comprehensive plan before the general elections.It ignited the debate on the effectiveness of security apparatus and potential dangers to the parties preparing for the general elections.

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In the 2013 elections, PPP and ANP were not allowed to hold rallies in certain parts of the country, which dearly affected their election results. It remains to be seen if this was a one-off incident or start of a campaign to harass the PML-N leaders from conducting rallies and public gatherings.

The incident is crucial because such an attack on interior minister himself who is responsible for providing security and controls all the security apparatus in the country seriously questions the security threats facing the other leaders moving with far less security.

The incident might further ignite the political tensions just ahead of the 2018 general elections. It can be termed an attack on Pakistan’s fragile democracy. The fear factor in elections due to religious outfits and the lone wolf can make election campaigns difficult and may tempt people to not come into public rallies. Today’s [Monday] Jalsa in Jhelum will be the first test in this regard.

It remains to be seen if this was a one-off incident or start of a campaign to harass the PML-N leaders from conducting rallies and public gatherings.

Polarization in Pakistan’s society has already taken the lives of many in this dangerous country. Religious fanatics claimed the lives of Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer in two separate attacks. Benazir Bhutto’s was attacked on December 27th in 2007, and the latter on January 4th in 2011. Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down in his car in May 2011 in Islamabad.

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The attack on Iqbal may not delay the elections, but, further investigations into the matter will shed light on the course of events in the future. It appears to be the direct repercussions of the government’s involvement in a change to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath, when it passed the Elections Act 2017.As the country is gearing up for its second consecutive democratic transition, peace is a crucial ingredient to ensure political stability before heading into elections.

PML-N is in crises. After Nawaz’s double ousting, corruption investigations against the ‘house of Sharif’ and its aides, and disqualification of foreign minister Khawaja Asif and ongoing confrontation against judiciary and aliens[establishment], Nawaz is under tremendous pressure to win the next elections to prove his innocence in the ‘court of people’.

The successful public rallies across the country and setbacks facing the ruling party, Nawaz looks determent to avert the crises and defeat hostile forces to come out a winner in a bid to restore the sanctity of the vote.

The assailant was about to pull the trigger again before he was nabbed by the PML-N supporters and security officials.

Nevertheless, this attack reflects the failure of Punjab Government of Shehbaz Sharif, which untlimately gad to give in to the threats and demands of Khadim Hussain Rizvi after he blocked Lahore and threatened to jam the country.

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The government was so fearful of Rizvi’s effect that at the behest of the government, anti-terrorism court (ATC) had opted to shelve the cases lodged against Rizvi and others pertaining to the Faizabad sit-in and adjourned the case for an indefinite period after the prosecutor asked for the further investigation into the case.

In such a tense political environment, PML-N could not afford that Rizvi along with other religious outfits disrupting law and order. Government’s failure apparently reflects the power of religious outfits in this country, where politicians face the brunt of the law, but religious leaders are spared. Ahsan Iqbal was not able to convince Rizvi during Faizabad sit-in, and ultimately, Army had to intervene.

PML-N doesn’t want to go against the religious outfits and the deeply conservative voters, only a few months prior to elections. But, at the same time, it cannot afford getting attacked from the ,allegedly, same elements, at a time when a country is in a venerable state of the crucial general elections.


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