Pakistan’s interior minister Ahsan Iqbal survived an assassination attempt on Sunday, officials said, an incident likely to heighten political tensions ahead of general elections expected in late July.
“Ahsan Iqbal was targeted and shot in the arm,” Asim Khan, a special aide to the politician, told AFP. “He is out of danger and being taken to a medical facility in Lahore. The attacker has been arrested.”
Junior interior minister Talal Chaudhry said Iqbal was hit by a bullet in his right arm in the attack in his native Narowal district in central Punjab province. He was attending the meeting in his constituency
Maik Ahmad Khan, a spokesman for the Punjab government,, also confirmed that Iqbal was out of danger, and that the attacker was arrested.
He said no more details were available. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has condemned the attack, which comes as the country gears up for federal elections expected this summer.
“The attacker was about to fire a second shot when police and people in the meeting overpowered him,” Khan said, adding that Iqbal was undergoing surgery and confirming his life was not in danger.
Ruling party struggling
The suspected attack on Iqbal comes as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is struggling to regain its footing ahead of the coming general elections after a series of blows to its top leaders.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deposed by the Supreme Court last year over graft allegations and has been banned from politics for life, foreign minister Khawaja Asif was also removed by the Islamabad High Court late last month for violating election laws.
Sharif and his supporters have repeatedly denied allegations of corruption, suggesting they are victims of a conspiracy driven by Pakistan’s powerful military to reduce the power of their party.
Iqbal, who was touted as a potential prime minister when Sharif was ousted last July, is a US-educated lawmaker from a political family long associated with the PML-N.
Considered the brains behind the party’s development agenda, he previously headed up the planning ministry.
“Strongly condemn the assassination attempt on my friend Ahsan Iqbal... Just spoke to him & he is in high spirits,” tweeted Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, brother to Nawaz.
“Those who indulged in this heinous act will be brought to justice,” he continued. “PMLN will not be browbeaten into submission... Prayers for quick recovery!!”
The elections -- which are due to be only Pakistan’s second ever democratic transition -- have not yet been called, but are widely expected to be held in late summer.
They will pit the PML-N against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) led by former cricket star Imran Khan.
Despite the setbacks facing the PML-N, the party has won a string of recent by-elections, proving it will likely remain a force in the next polls.