The assassination of 69-year-old Taliban critic Bashir Ahmed Bilour is a reminder of the violent relationship between the terror group and the Awami National Party, reports Tahir Ali
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan says a conflict is on between secularism and Islam, and in this battle while the Awami National Party is fighting to establish a secular system, the militants are striving for Islamic shariah (laws).
Being a secular political entity, the ANP is fighting an ideological war against the TTP since it came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2008. The TTP has termed the ANP as its enemy. It says a conflict between Islam and secularism is going on where the Taliban represents Islam while the ANP wants to bring the country under the banner of secularism.
Since 2008, the ANP has lost more than 550 of its workers including three members of Parliament in different attacks by the Taliban, which continue relentlessly. However, the ANP is firm on its stand -- "we will fight the war until not a single terrorist is remaining in the country".
Interestingly, the ANP is the only political party in the country that has taken a stand against militants. It was this party which demanded a military operation against Maulana Fazlullah-led terrorists in the Swat region.
Fazlullah is the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, a banned Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist militant group allied to the Pakistani Taliban.
"Taliban attacks would not weaken the government's commitment to combat militancy; we will never bow our heads to them," Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a senior ANP leader, had said as the condemned the Taliban, 10 days prior to his assassination.
Bilour was killed in a suicide blast in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar on Saturday.
On the other hand, the TTP is also changing its policies of attacking the party leaders and workers. The terror outfit has vowed to attack the political rallies of the ANP especially during the upcoming general elections. The current assembly will be dissolved in March 2013.
The upcoming elections would be a real challenge for the ANP to attract public to its political rallies, as the Taliban has time and again warned to target its gatherings. However, the ANP has said that the party could not be deterred from political campaigning.
"We will hold public meetings and rallies and they (militants) cannot stop us," said Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar after a rally of the ANP was attacked in Nowshehra earlier this year.
In his last video message, a copy of which is available with rediff.com, Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of TTP, not only ordered his men to target the ANP's rallies but also appealed to the general public to be away from such gatherings.
"It is my order to the mujahideen that once again elections are near to form a democratic, secular system in the country. The nationalyaan (ANP followers) are the members of Satan's shura (constitution). Whenever you find members of the ANP, target them; give them such an exemplary punishment that they keep for hundreds years in their minds. The ANP followers are communists and when it comes to ideology they are infidels; they are enemies of Islam, they are behind the killing of Muslims everywhere."
Mehsud said that the ANP has always supported the invaders whether they were the Russians forces or the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.
'Today, when the Americans have captured Afghanistan and have imprisoned Muslims ulemas (clerics) and women and have bombarded mosques and destroyed madrassas, the ANP is once again supporting them (Americans). The ANP is worshiping the US and Obama administration,' Mehsud warned.
Taliban attacks on ANP leadership and rallies
In August 2008, the Taliban attacked ANP's Iqbal Ahmed Khan in Swat. Although he survived the attack 10 people including his brother Waqar Ahmed Khan were killed.
On October 1, 2008, a suicide bomber entered the hujra (where male guests are entertained in a household) hosted by Asfandyar Wali Khan at Charsadda on Eid but did not succeed. One of his guards got hold of the bomber who blew himself up before he could reach Asfandyar Wali. Five other people were killed in the attack.
In February 2009, Alamzeb Khan, who represented the ANP in the provincial assembly was killed when his car was hit by a powerful bomb in Peshawar.
In December 2009, a suicide bomber struck the hujra hosted by ANP member Dr Shamsher Ali Khan, killing him and injuring 11 others including his two brothers in a Swat district. The legislator was exchanging Eid greetings with his electorate when the bomber ripped through the hujra.
In April 2010, at least 45 people were killed and more than 100 hundred injured when a suicide blast took place at the political rally of the ANP at Timargarah.
In July 2010, the militants assassinated Mian Arshad Hussain, the only son of the provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. The incident occurred at the Pabbi area near Nowshehra district. Arshad left his home along with his friend for an evening walk when militants opened fire on him. He died on the spot.
On January 7, 2011, Jehar Khan Hoti was killed during an ambush in Mardan. He was the ANP's information secretary of the Mardan district.
In May 2011, an ANP leader Muzafar Ali Khan, along with his personal guard and a policeman, were killed in a grenade attack at Matta Tehsil in Swat.
On June 8, 2011, the terrorists shot dead ANP president of the Bannu district along with two other activists. Israel Khan and his friends were on their way back home when militants opened fire on them and they succumbed to their injuries.
In September 2011, the ANP's executive committee member Sher Muhammad Khan was killed in a remote-controlled bomb blast in Bandai area of Lower Dir. The ANP leader was in a van along with his driver and guards when they were attacked.
In November 2011, a senior leader of the ANP and a former union council nazim was killed in a suicide attack as they returned home from Eid prayers in the Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the same month, terroists shot dead another leader of the ANP in Charsadda district. Sabiullah Khan was a senior vice-president of the party.
In December 2011, at least eight people were wounded when a remote-controlled bomb went off near the public rally of ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan in Charsadda. He was addressing the public gathering when the explosion took place.
In July 2012, ANP leader Malik Qasim was killed along with another five others when a bomb went off in Quetta's Kachlak Bazaar.
Later in the month, a leading politician of the ANP was killed in Tank district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some unknown armed men open fired over Khan Gul, president of ANP (Tank district), who was seriously injured. He was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his injuries.
In November 2012, ANP leader Malak Fateh Khan and his three guards were killed in a suicide blast in Buner district.
In December 2012, at least eight persons were injured in a blast that targeted the venue of the ANP rally. A hand grenade was hurled near the rally venue where party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan was scheduled to visit. However, he had not arrived at the time of the attack.
On December 22, a TTP suicide bomber targeted provincial senior minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour. He was the most high profile leader targeted by the Taliban.
Among the ANP leadership, federal minister for railways and Bashir Ahmed Bilour's brother Ghulam Ahmed Bilour alone enjoys immunity. The TTP had exempted him from its target list after he announced $100,000 for the person who kills the maker of the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, which created a furore across the globe.
Following the federal minister's announcement earlier in October, TTP central spokesperson Ihsanullah Ihsan had said, "Ghulam Bilour has won the hearts and minds of many Muslims all around the world. We, the Taliban, not only appreciate this move but also announce that he is no more on our hit list. He has been pardoned.
"However, the other leadership of ANP is still on our hit list even Bashir Bilour," he had added.
Image: People carry the coffin of the provincial minister for local government Bashir Ahmed Bilour, who died in a bomb attack, during his funeral at the Army Stadium in Peshawar | Photograph: Khuram Parvez/Reuters