RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The former prime minister of Pakistan has been wounded by gunfire in eastern Pakistan. Imran Khan was riding in a truck as part of a massive demonstration when officials in his political party say he was hit, although not seriously hurt. Some of Khan's supporters were also injured. Imran Khan has been campaigning to force the government of Pakistan to hold early elections since an elections commission in Islamabad barred him from office last month. Madiha Afzal is a fellow with the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, and she joins us now. Thank you so much for being here.
MADIHA AFZAL: Good morning.
MARTIN: I want to step back and get some context. Explain why Imran Khan is still such an important political leader in Pakistan.
AFZAL: Well, Imran Khan is one in a long line of Pakistani prime ministers ousted before the completion of their full electoral term in office. But he has used his ouster - that was in April this year - in a really, really striking way, to propel a narrative that has furthered his popularity. And he's done this by casting the current government as illegitimate. He says they're corrupt, and they were brought into power by the military and America. You know, and of course, the America part is a conspiracy theory. But he's held huge rally after huge rally in Pakistan, demonstrating street power. And in by-elections that were held in Pakistan over the summer and just as recently as a couple of weeks ago, you know, his party has been winning. So he's really shown that his popularity is translating at the ballot box, and he's calling for fresh elections.
MARTIN: Were the claims that were used against him to kick him out of office legitimate?
AFZAL: Well, he was kicked out of office essentially because of a vote of no confidence. But what underlied that was that he had fallen out of favor with the country's military and the military establishment. And that is the reason in all of Pakistan's history that Pakistani prime ministers have been ousted from office.
MARTIN: So the shooting happened, as we said, during this big demonstration that Imran Khan was leading. He's pushing for early elections. But is that the extent of what has brought so many people out to protest?
AFZAL: He is - this protest is a long march that Khan has been saying he would hold. The long march is basically a huge protest that starts in one city and ends up in Islamabad, where he wants - which is the capital - where he will engage in a sit-in, basically, waiting for fresh elections to be announced. The march is titled as the March for Haqiqi Azadi, which means true independence. It's against the current government and the establishment. It started in Lahore last week on October 28, and, you know, it was set to culminate in Islamabad, you know, sometime likely next week. And, you know, he certainly is able to bring out people because many in Pakistan have soured away from Pakistan's sort of old style of politics and the establishment.
MARTIN: And no doubt all the damage from the severe flooding in recent weeks has exacerbated that political discontent.
Madiha Afzal is a fellow with the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Thanks so much for your context this morning. We appreciate it.
AFZAL: Thanks for having me.
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