LAHORE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday became the latest in a long line of world leaders attacked with a shoe.
The attack was apparently a well-coordinated effort to reopen the chapter of controversial amendments regarding the Finality of Prophethood that had recently ended with the resignation of Zahid Hamid as federal law minister.
Sharif was invited to address a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of slain religious scholar Sarfaraz Naeemi at Jamia Naeemia in Lahore. Just as Sharif got to the podium, a man, later identified as ‘Falki’, hurled a shoe towards him, which landed reasonably far away from Sharif.
Moments later, another man, reportedly identified as Munawar, tossed his shoe towards Sharif. The shoe hit him in the chest before bouncing into his neck and cheek. Immediately afterwards, the man stepped up on the stage chanting a religious slogan.
Sharif’s private guards and event organisers overpowered the man, pinned him to the floor, and thrashed him.
As the man was being beaten, several other students began shouting the same slogan.
According to some sources, five shoes in total were hurled towards Sharif. Both men and their accomplices were taken to the local police station.
The sources revealed the planning was done a night before “to humiliate Sharif by pelting him with a shoe”. The plan, according to the sources, was that Munawar would sit right in front of Sharif to hit him with a shoe, whereas others were told to hurl their shoes from wherever they were standing.
A few minutes after the entire episode, Sharif went back to the podium to make a brief address. This time though, he stood behind a large contingent that included some of the Special Branch officials already present at the event.
A slightly-shaken Sharif kept his address short. He said his family had longstanding relations with the Naeemi family, and that they had learned a great deal from Mufti Muhammad Naeemi and Ragib Naeemi.
He said he still remembered when the seminary was being built and the effort involved, before concluding with thanks to the seminary administration for inviting him.
He made no mention of the shoes or the attackers.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, Raghib Naeemi told the media that he had already called for the findings of the Zafarul Haq committee to be made public.
“We have already condemned the controversial amendment in the law,” he said, adding that the government should ensure that no such attempt was made to modify any articles of law or the Constitution pertaining to the Finality of Prophethood.
He then condemned the attack, saying it is against the principles of Islam. He said the incident would not affect his family’s 70-year-long friendship with the Sharifs.
“People have a right to disagree, but this is no way to expresses disagreement,” he added.
Naeemi demanded strict action against the attackers and their accomplices or possible backers. He said those people did not reflect the seminary’s ideology of non-violence.
He could not confirm if the attackers were from his seminary.
The incident was condemned across the political spectrum, with PML-N friends and foes all noting that such behavior had no space in political discourse.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemned the attack, saying that his party had “opposed such disrespectful tactics against opponents since its inception and condemned such incidents in the strongest possible terms”.
Even PTI chief Imran Khan, who rarely minces his words when attacking Sharif, said, “I want to tell everyone that hurling shoes and throwing ink on anyone is not acceptable. It shouldn’t happen in any democracy.”
This was the third such event in less than 15 days. On Saturday, ink was thrown on the face of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif during a workers convention in his hometown of Sialkot. On February 24, a shoe was hurled at Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal during an address at a workers convention in Narowal, his hometown. In both of the incidents, the ministers pardoned their attackers.
The commonality in all these incidents was that the suspected attackers all bore grudges against the government for contents of The Elections Act, 2017 and the subsequent withholding of the report prepared by a three-membered committee led by PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq
The accused, who identified himself as Abdul Ghafoor Falki, said he threw his shoe at Sharif for hanging Mumtaz Qadri – the man who assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer – along with the elections act changes and a comment that Sharif allegedly made at a Holi event.
Fiaz Rasool, a factory worker in Sialkot and the man who attacked Asif with ink, also cited the elections act changes. He claimed to have voted for the PML-N and said he considered the changes to be criminal.