Khan survives assassination attempt for second political innings

Since being ousted from office by a vote of no confidence in April, former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said he was prepared to lay down his life for the country.

On Thursday he survived an assassination attempt when a gunman opened fire on his open-topped campaign truck as it wound its way through a huge crowd near Gujranwala, in eastern Punjab province.

Khan -- who was leading a so-called "long march" of supporters on the capital to press for early elections -- escaped with a bullet wound to his right calf, while several of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party were also hit by the spray of gunfire.

The country's information minister said authorities had the gunman in custody, and a video clip apparently filmed in a police station showed him saying he tried to kill Khan for "misleading" the nation.

Regarded as a wily cricket captain during his international playing days, Khan has made no secret of his attempt to disrupt the political process since being ousted -- but whether he gets a second innings remains to be seen.

The government insists it will not call an early election -- which must be held by October next year -- and has assailed him with a slew of charges that have him tangled in myriad court cases.

- Popular support -

Khan enjoyed genuine popular support when he became premier in 2018, but critics say he has failed to deliver on promises to revitalise the economy and improve the plight of the poor.

The 70-year-old's party was voted in by millions who grew up watching him play cricket, where he excelled as an all-rounder and led the nation to World Cup victory in 1992.

The PTI overturned decades of dominance by the Pakistan Peoples Party  and Pakistan Muslim League-N -- two usually feuding groups that joined forces to oust him.

Khan's vision was for Pakistan to become a welfare state modelled on the Islamic golden age of the 7th to 14th centuries, a period of cultural, economic and scientific flourishing in the Muslim world.

But he made little headway in improving Pakistan's financial situation, with galloping inflation, crippling debt and a feeble rupee undermining economic reform.

A deteriorating security situation, particularly since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan last year, also happened on his watch.

- Tiptoed into politics -

The Oxford-educated son of a wealthy Lahore family, Khan had a reputation as a playboy until his retirement from international cricket.

For years he busied himself with charity projects, raising millions to build a cancer hospital to honour his mother.

He tiptoed into politics and for years held the PTI's only parliamentary seat.

But the party grew hugely during the military-led government of General Pervez Musharraf, becoming a genuine force in the 2013 elections before winning a majority five years later.

Running the country proved more difficult than sitting in opposition, however.

Double-digit inflation has drove up the cost of basic goods, and the country had to borrow heavily just to service nearly $130 billion of foreign debt.

He also fell out with the military -- key to political power in Pakistan.

Married three times, his current wife Bushra Bibi comes from a conservative family and wears a veil in public.

Often described as being impulsive and brash, he draws frequently on cricket analogies to describe his political battles.

"I fight till the very last ball," he told a recent TV interview.

"I entered politics when I had conquered my fear of dying. I don't fear dying, you've got to go one day."

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