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Pakistan minister survives attack over blasphemy laws

Gunman allegedly tells police he shot Ahsan Iqbal because of government attempt to water down laws

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Pakistan minister survives attack over blasphemy laws

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal (right) and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi perform a ground-breaking ceremony for a motorway project on May 5. (Photo courtesy of Press Information Department, Government of Pakistan)

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Pakistani government minister Ahsan Iqbal was wounded in a gun attack over the blasphemy laws during a visit to his constituency.

The attack on the minister for interior and narcotics control took place on May 6 in Narowal district of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province. 

According to police, the shooter identified himself as Abid Hussain and showed his affiliation with Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a religious party strictly opposed to any reforms to Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws.  

The minister had met a group of Christians in his constituency before being shot. 

"Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal finished his corner meeting at village Kanjroor at about 6pm when a man took advantage of the rushed gathering around the minister and fired a bullet with a 30mm pistol which passed his right arm and went straight into the groin area," a preliminary police report said. 

"The elite police incapacitated the person immediately, barring him from further firing and arrested him along with the weapon."

Iqbal was rushed to District Headquarters Hospital in Narowal for treatment before being airlifted to Services Hospital, where he underwent surgery during the night.

The suspect reportedly told interrogators that the shooting was his personal act over the government's now withdrawn amendment to an election declaration about the finality of the Prophet Muhammad, an act deemed blasphemy by the religious party and its supporters. According to the Muslim faith, Muhammad is the last prophet of God.

The group staged a three-week protest in capital Islamabad last year which was called off only after Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid agreed to step down and a written assurance was given that blasphemy laws would not be touched. 

"Allah Almighty has been very kind," Iqbal tweeted late on May 6 as he called on the nation to pray for his early recovery. 

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi strongly condemned the incident and sought an immediate report from the inspector general of Punjab police.

"The prime minister prayed for the early recovery of the minister," said a PM's Office statement.

Pakistan's powerful army chief also condemned the attack and wished the minister a speedy recovery, according to ISPR, the army's media wing. 

Blasphemy has become a very complex issue in Pakistan and Iqbal is the third high-profile figure to have been attacked by elements supportive of the blasphemy law. 

Former liberal governor Salmaan Taseer and Catholic minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated in early 2011 after the duo spoke out against the misuse of blasphemy laws in the wake of a death sentence handed to Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five. 

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