A familiar scourge of South Asian politics returned to haunt us this week, as the former cricket captain and prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan suffered injuries to his leg after being shot at in a protest march he was leading in Wazirabad in Punjab. Nine other people are believed to have been injured and one person died in the attack. Khan was taken to hospital soon after and party officials later said he was struck in the right shin and had suffered bone damage from the pellets but that he was in stable condition. Pakistani TV channels aired footage that amounted to a confession from the alleged gunman who said Imran was the target. Khan, 70, was leading a protest rally on to the capital Islamabad, demanding general elections after he was ousted from power in April this year.
Unfortunately, putting their lives on the line when trying to lead their nation is something that comes with the territory for those who enter politics in the Indian subcontinent. Before Khan, there was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, and even her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was sentenced to death by a military court following a coup. Before that, Pakistan's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was killed at a political rally in Rawalpindi. India saw the mother and son duo of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi both getting killed in the space of just six years, not to mention the original sin of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. And Bangladesh of course had two serving presidents, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman, eliminated by the assassins bullets, within a decade of its birth as an independent nation.
The list of high-profile political assassinations in the region is a testament to the violent expression that marks all political extremism in South Asia. According to one count, the eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries has been witness to the assassination of about 60 public figures for religious, political, or military motives over the past seven decades. The methods of assassination have ranged from suicide bombings and knifings to gunshots with assassins representing all shades of violent extremism, religions, and vocations including bodyguards, active military personnel, and members of royalty.
It serves to show the high stakes and passions stoked by politics in the region. After the departure of Britain as a colonial power in 1947 following the Second World War, simmering tensions between communities based on ethnicity, religion, and language that predated this departure erupted into various forms of violence across the subcontinent. The swift partition of the Indian subcontinent (the division of British India into the two separate states of India and Pakistan, later leading to the emergence of Bangladesh) based on these sociocultural divides laid the ground for future violence. Generally, it is felt that poverty and the colonial legacy have acted as obstacles to the region growing out of this tendency to resort to violence as the solution to the myriad problems faced by its teeming populations. But killings, and violence in general, have never been the solution to its problems. As home to more than a fifth of humanity, let us hope that this realisation dawns on its people sooner rather than later.
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