LONDON: I had been told I was number one on the terrorist hit-list, although who the terrorists would be was anybody’s guess. There are perhaps 25 militant groups, which now call themselves ‘Taliban’ and any one of them could have been hired by my political opponents, said Imran Khan to a British newspaper.
There had already been damaging smears, including the claim that I was part of a Zionist conspiracy to take over Pakistan. It was a dangerous allegation, and one that sounds crazy given my vehement opposition to drone strikes and the so-called ‘war on terror’. But the threat to my life was all too real.
It is an irony, then, that a serious assassination attempt was prevented only by an accident – and the fact that I spent the closing days of the Pakistan election campaign in a hospital bed.
The fall that nearly killed me quite possibly saved my life.
The British public might struggle to understand the energy and the chaos of that campaign. The meeting in Lahore where I fell in May was the first of nine separate rallies scheduled for that night. The following day I was supposed to be speaking at a further 13, spaced along the old Grand Trunk Road from Lahore to Islamabad. About a quarter of Pakistani voters live along that route.
We were drawing massive crowds and I was getting mobbed. Thousands were coming to hear me speak on behalf of our party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice, and we didn’t have the means to handle the spontaneous exuberance of the crowds. We were losing control.
The authorities had already warned me that my life was at risk, and I had been given the highest level of police security.
One safety measure was having me speak from a platform about 24ft above ground. This provided some protection from a potential bomb blast and also stopped passionate youths from climbing on to the stage. There were no steps, so instead a forklift truck was used to raise me up to the small platform to speak.
And this is how I nearly met my end. The fork-lift rose in a series of jerks and the security men surrounding me formed a barrier. This meant I could not see there wasn’t a guard rail around the platform.
Losing my balance, I leant over to where I thought the safety barrier would be – and grasped at thin air. I somersaulted downwards, landing on my back from a height of about 18ft. The next thing I knew I was coming round in hospital, with doctors stitching up a head wound.
I also suffered a punctured lung, a crushed vertebra, three more chipped or fractured vertebrae, and concussion. I was lucky to be alive. My great fear as I lay there was that I was going to be paralysed.