Imran Khan: ‘Going out is like playing Russian roulette’
Imran Khan addressed tens of thousands of supporters from the safety of a bulletproof box on Sunday, in his first rally since he was shot in an attempted assassination.
Speaking in Lahore, Mr Khan said the military was trying to sabotage his political career and said its meddling was pushing the country to the brink of economic disaster. He also renewed appeals for early elections, despite his fears that by wading back into politics he’s risking his life.
Speaking to The Telegraph before the rally, he said leaving his house had become a game of “Russian roulette”, with the threat of assassination still looming and a concerted effort under way.
Mr Khan, 70, who is riding a wave of public support, said the country’s all-powerful military and intelligence agencies, known euphemistically as the establishment, would rather see him dead than return as leader in the autumn.
“The establishment is petrified of me winning elections, hence they will try and eliminate me. The government should provide security for me when I leave the house but they haven’t done this,” said Mr Khan.
“I have had to get my own security team and follow a security code but it is a Russian roulette. God knows, when I go out, I am vulnerable.”
Mr Khan was removed from power in April 2022 in a no-confidence vote. His party says it was the result of illegal political horse trading. In November 2022 he narrowly survived an assassination attempt after being shot four times in the legs.
While recovering in hospital in Lahore, Mr Khan blamed Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, for the country’s interior minister, Rana Sanaullah, and senior figures in Pakistan’s feared Inter Services Intelligence as being behind the assassination attempt.
“It is the same government officials [now] who tried to kill me before,” said Mr Khan.
On March 14, the Pakistani police unsuccessfully stormed Mr Khan’s home in Lahore to arrest him over accusations he illegally sold state gifts. He dismissed them as politically motivated.
Mr Khan described the raid on his home as “cowardly” and stated how his wife was forced to listen to police beating up his staff and stealing his possessions.
No prime minister has ever completed their term in power in Pakistan and Mr Khan only served three-and-a-half of his five-year term. However, in that time he established allies in the police and intelligence services.
Going by recent polls, if an election were held today, Mr Khan would win. A Gallup poll last week put his approval rating at 62 per cent. Mr Sharif is on 32 per cent.
But given the perceived threats to his life, why does Mr Khan want to stick with politics?
His opponents allege that he is power crazy but Mr Khan told The Telegraph that he feels an obligation to Pakistan to crack down on corruption.
Up to 1,000 supporters arrested
“I spent my younger days in England and I discovered the reason why, compared to Pakistan, it is prosperous. Because it has laws and ‘rule of law’ that protects people’s fundamental rights and liberates human beings and their potential,” he said.
Up to 1,000 of Mr Khan’s supporters have been arrested in the past few days including his nephew, Hassan Niazi, and his social media chief, Azhar Mashwani is missing.
“It is not just the fact they have put them in jail but that they torture them in the worst way possible. They strip them naked and humiliate them; sexual torture with their private parts and so on,” he said.
Mr Khan plans to resume campaigning now that his gunshot wounds have almost healed. On Saturday night, he will hold what he expects to be a huge rally in Lahore.
He will then push for elections in two of Pakistan’s four provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He says his level of support is unprecedented for an ousted government.
“And, since then, my public support has just grown and grown,” he said.
Even if Mr Khan is re-elected he faces the challenge of working alongside his enemies – the establishment – to save the economy from collapse and bring down inflation which is at its highest in 50 years.
“I can forgive those who tried to kill me, I know who they are,” he said after careful consideration.
“In that sense we can go through truth and reconciliation. As the establishment is all powerful you can’t wish them away but you can have a working relationship with them.”