Liberal Opinion: Trends: Assassination attempts are nothing new to politics in South Asia

When an attempt on the life of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was made on Thursday, it was a revival of an unfortunate and  gory aspect of Pakistan’s recent political history.

After Pakistan came into existence in 1947, similar attempts, including a few fatal, have dotted the history of this trouble-torn nation.

Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan was shot in the shin  during his anti-government protest last Thursday. Imran Khan’s convoy was  attacked in the east of the country in what his aides said was a  clear attempt on the life of the immediate past  Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Pakistan has a long history of political coups and unrest. Rawalpindi has been notorious for its history of political assassinations. At least two former Prime Ministers had been assassinated on the streets of this twin city of capital Islamabad.

It all started in 1951 when the country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, after the 1947 partition of India, was shot dead at a political rally in Rawalpindi.

Another Prime Minister to be assassinated during a political event  in Rawalpindi was none other than Benazir Bhutto.

Two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack after holding an election rally in Rawalpindi. A few months before her death, she had survived a suicide bomb assassination attempt in Karachi, where at least 139 people were killed. It was  one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks at a political rally.

In 1988 Military ruler President Mohammad Zia ul Haq was killed  in an air crash. He was travelling in a Hercules C-130 aircraft that crashed in mysterious circumstances. Several conspiracy theories shrouded the crash. Some of these theorists suggested a case of mangoes being loaded in the plane shortly before its take-off. The box of mangoes was suspected to  contain a timer device that released gas to knock out the cockpit crew.

Besides attempted political assassinations, Pakistan’s history is also dotted by political bosses abandoning country’s shores after being thrown out of power.

Former army chief-turned President Pervez Musharraf annexed power in a bloodless coup. He was sworn in as president and head of state in June 2001. He resigned in 2008 and Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s husband, succeeded him  as president.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir who was elected as Prime Minister in 1970, was hanged  following  conviction that remained mired in controversies.

In 1977, Zia ul Haq seized power after a coup against the Bhutto government. He put Bhutto under house arrest, imposed martial law, suspended the constitution and put a blanket ban on political parties. It was not the first military coup in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s first military coup was in 1958 when  Governor-General Sikander Mirza enforced martial law with General Ayyub Khan as chief martial law administrator. Ayyub Khan later assumed the presidency and sacked Mirza, who  later exiled as was subsequently done by Parvez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif.

India, too, had its share of political assassinations. Two of Indian Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi, and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, were assassinated while in power. Similarly,  Chief Minister Beant Singh was killed outside his fortified Punjab Civil Secretariat office. Before him, Punjab’s Finance Minister Balwant Singh, too, was ambushed and killed in a terrorist attack in Chandigarh.

Difference of opinion is an accepted aspect of a democratic process. But extending this differentiation of opinion to liquidation is extremely deplorable. Unfortunately, political assassinations have refused elimination as democracies, both controlled and liberal, face new  and uphill challenges. 

Tail piece : Now when Imran Khan is in the news again, it may not be way off  the context to recall my interaction with him (that appeared in The Tribune) during the 1989 World Cup Cricket Tournament:

My piece: On meeting a Sikh journalist

On professional assignments outside Chandigarh, whenever I introduce myself as Prabhjot Singh from The Tribune, the question comes to me: “Are you from Punjabi Tribune?” Perhaps implying thereby that a Sikh cannot write: English.

I often laugh away such queries. There could be many reasons for such a question. There were not many Sikhs who took to newspaper reporting, especially as Staff Correspondents of The Tribune.

I had gone to Pakistan to cover the World Cricket Tournament for the Reliance Cup. Accompanied by other Indian and foreign journalists. I went to the National Stadium at Lahore on the eve of Pakistan’s match against England.

Pakistani players were at the nets.

We were engrossed in a discussion when I found someone touching my shoulder. I looked back. It was none other than Pakistan’s freak leg spinner, Abdul Qadir.

“Sardarji, sada kaptan tuhanu bulanda je” (Sardarji, our skipper is calling you), said Abdul Qadir, pointing towards the Pakistani tent where Imran Khan sat in a chair.

I told Qadir that I would come in a few minutes.

Imran Khan was all smiles as he admired me from head to toe. He enquired: “Sardarji, Punjabon aye ho?” (Sardarji, have you come from (East) Punjab?)

“Ji”, I replied.

“Match dekhan aye ho ke ghuman phiran aye ho?” (Have you come to watch matches or for sightseeing?)

“Matchan layi aya haan”. (I have come for the matches).

“Ki kam karde ho?” (What do you do?)

“Main ik akhbar wich kam karda haan”. (I work on a newspaper).

“Aacha aacha; tusee taan te pher ik sahafi ho?” (I see, then you are a journalist), he said, and started laughing. He hugged me and said: “Kasam Khuda di aaj main pehli var koi Sikh sahafi takya je”. (By God, I have seen a Sikh journalist for the first time).

“Sikh lok te vaise ve kaat hi cricket khed de ne. Par Sikh Sahafi dekh ke tan barri hairangi hoi je. Koi sewa hoi taan dasna”, he said. (Not many Sikhs play cricket.

But seeing a Sikh journalist is a greater surprise. Let me know if I can be of any help.)

Afterwards, throughout the tournament, whenever Imran Khan would see me he would wave and shout; “Sardarji, Sat Sri Akal.”

(Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered  Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit probingeye.com  or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye)

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