Commentary: Pakistan won’t quickly recover from Imran Khan’s shooting


Clips of the would-be assassin claiming to have acted alone are all over Pakistani media. Yet it is hard to imagine that claim being widely believed in a country already consumed by conspiracy theories.

Pakistanis will remember that nobody found out who killed Bhutto and be suspicious of any simple explanation, whether or not it is true. And they will find someone to blame: Already, pro-Khan protesters have vandalised symbols of the military’s power across the country.

Pakistan’s army was already playing defence against Khan’s resurgent party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Just a week ago, the country’s spy chief, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum, held an unprecedented press conference in which he simultaneously insisted that the military was politically neutral and that Khan was a hypocrite who had made secret, “unconstitutional” demands of the army.

Never before has the head of Inter-Services Intelligence had to lower himself so far as to answer questions from the press corps.

Later this month, the most powerful post in Pakistan — chief of the army staff — was supposed to receive a new incumbent. Some had hoped that this might allow the military to turn its promise to stay out of politics into a reality — and that the departure of the current military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, would allow Khan to move on from attacking the military for betraying him.

Now, the attempt on Khan’s life may create an almost irreconcilable divide between the corps commanders who have dominated Pakistan for decades and the populist insurgent they helped elevate to the premiership just four years ago.

Many of us have long anticipated a time when Pakistanis would turn against the military-dominated establishment that has so hobbled the country’s democratic development and economic growth. Yet Khan’s anti-Western rhetoric hardly inspires confidence either.

Khan’s supporters will point out that Pakistanis don’t care about concerns expressed by liberals in the West or elsewhere. The country no longer needs their backing.