Imran Khan calls off Islamabad march in first public appearance since being shot

Pakistan’s former prime minister and opposition leader Imran Khan, centre, addresses his supporters during a rally in Rawalpindi (Associated Press)
Pakistan’s former prime minister and opposition leader Imran Khan, centre, addresses his supporters during a rally in Rawalpindi (Associated Press)

Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has announced that his party is quitting all regional and national assemblies, condemning the country’s “corrupt system” as he made his first public appearance after an assassination attempt on his life earlier this month.

In a surprise move, Mr Khan also made a U-turn on his demand for snap elections in Pakistan, something for which he has aggressively campaigned since being ousted from office in April.

Mr Khan also called an end to his party’s protest march on the capital, the demonstration he was taking part in when he was shot earlier in November, criticising the government for its handling of the march and saying he did not want to inflict “anarchy” on the nation.

“They (the government) cannot deal with a march in Islamabad, they can call as many police as they want, but they cannot stop the hundreds of thousands from entering Islamabad,” Mr Khan said, suggesting his supporters could have completed the march if they wanted to.

He added that he is “more worried about the freedom of Pakistan than my life”.

“I will fight for this country until my last drop of blood,” a seated Mr Khan told a roaring crowd from behind a stage protected by bulletproof glass.

“We could have created a situation like Sri Lanka. I have decided against marching on Islamabad because I don’t want there to be anarchy in the country. I don’t want to cause any harm to this country,” the cricket great-turned-politician said on Saturday.

The former Pakistan premier said his Tehreek-e-Insaf party would instead contest the elections scheduled in the next nine months.

Supporters of Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party attend the rally in Rawalpindi (AP Photo)
Supporters of Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party attend the rally in Rawalpindi (AP Photo)

Mr Khan was speaking before a huge gathering of supporters in the city of Rawalpindi, not far from the capital. He spoke for more than an hour and referred to the Sufi mystic Rumi and the fall of the Soviet Union.

He then took to Twitter on Sunday to share images of the rally, saying that while the march may be ending his “movement” will go on.

“I am grateful to all those who participated in such large numbers in our Rawalpindi Azadi March yesterday. Until we establish the rule of law (in the country) and find the meaning of true freedom, our movement will continue,” Mr Khan said on Twitter.

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It comes just two days after Mr Khan said he feels “so very lucky” to be alive after the assassination attempt on 3 November, when he was shot in the shin by a gunman who also killed a member of his party.

Mr Khan “thanked the Almighty that I was saved” in an interview with The Times published on Friday. “I shouldn’t have really survived that. I’m so very lucky to be alive.”

In the interview, Mr Khan stressed his eagerness to return to the campaign trail, despite an intelligence report filed before the court claiming another attempt could be carried out on his life.

He was ousted from office in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April this year, following which he has campaigned for snap elections arguing that his removal was illegal and orchestrated by current prime minister Shehbaz Sharif with foreign help – specifically from the US government.

Mr Khan said on Saturday that he would meet with his party’s leadership before announcing the timing of their exits from various assemblies.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari dubbed the Saturday night rally a “face-saving flopshow”.

“Unable to pull revolution crowds, failed at undermining appointments of new chiefs, frustrated, resorts to resignation drama,” Mr Zardari said.