Pakistan’s interior minister Ahsan Iqbal has been shot in a suspected assassination attempt ahead of nationwide elections due this year, but will survive, officials said Sunday.
The suspect, who police said was named “Abid” and is believed to be in his early 20s, shot Iqbal at close range with a 30-bore pistol, hitting him in his right arm as he was preparing to leave a public meeting in Punjab province, senior police official Raja Riffat Mukhtar said.
“The attacker was about to fire a second shot when police and people in the meeting overpowered him,” said Malik Ahmed Khan, a spokesman for the Punjab government, adding that Iqbal was undergoing surgery and confirming his life was not in danger.
Iqbal “was targeted”, his aide Asim Khan told AFP, confirming that the attacker has been arrested. Punjab health secretary Najam Shah said he had been taken to a hospital in Lahore.
Video footage of his arrival released by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) showed him being lifted from a helicopter on a stretcher, his eyes open as he responded to questions.
“He’s stable… he’s ok,” a hospital official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
The shooting in Iqbal’s constituency of Narowal district drew swift international condemnation, and comes as Pakistan gears up for its second ever democratic transition, with federal polls widely expected this summer.
It follows a series of blows to the PML-N, which has been struggling to find its footing since its eponymous leader Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court over graft allegations last summer.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, along with opposition leaders Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto and the powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, have all condemned the attack.
PML-N lawmaker Maiza Hameed told Pakistan’s Geo News that the shooting was an attempt to “weaken democracy” ahead of the upcoming elections.
“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!!”