Pakistan interior minister recovering after gun attack

Pakistan interior minister recovering after gun attack

LAHORE – Agence France-Presse
Pakistan interior minister recovering after gun attack

Pakistan’s interior minister was recovering in hospital May 7 after being shot in a suspected assassination attempt possibly linked to blasphemy, with the attack seen as an ominous sign for security ahead of nationwide elections.

Ahsan Iqbal, 59, was shot in the right arm as he prepared to leave a public meeting in his constituency in Punjab province late May 6.

A man identified by police only as “Abid” and said to be in his early 20s was wrestled to the ground by officers and bystanders as he was preparing to fire a second shot. He has been taken into custody.

Police are still investigating the attack, but local deputy commissioner Ali Anan Qamar told AFP that the shooter said he was inspired by a controversy last year in which a small amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear had to be hastily reversed after it was linked to blasphemy.

The row sparked a three-week sit-in last November by a previously little-known Islamist group, which paralyzed the capital.

That demonstration ended when the government capitulated to the protesters’ demands -- including the ousting of the federal law minister -- in a deal brokered by the military.

At the time many Pakistanis and analysts warned that a dangerous precedent had been set in which fringe groups could bend the state to their will by citing blasphemy, a highly inflammatory charge in the conservative Muslim country.

Iqbal, a champion of Pakistan’s much-persecuted religious minorities, pushed for a negotiated settlement to the controversy. He has previously condemned hate speech against groups such as the Ahmadis, an Islamic minority sect who were at the center of the dispute.

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