The assassination of Haroon Bilour in Pakistan’s Peshawar establishes that still Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has the capability to strike where it wants and kill people. Over the years and especially since the military operation Zarb-e-Azb began in June 2014, TTP has weakened. Though it has become weak, still TTP is a force. TTP and other militant organisations’ main target is the liberal, secular and left of the centre Awami National Party (ANP). The party is led by Afsandyar Wali Khan, grandson of Khan Abdul Gafar Khan ‘frontier Gandhi’.
The general elections will be held on July 25. The violence is not unexpected during the election campaign. The political atmosphere is polarised and tense.
This is the second time TTP has targeted the Bilour family. Earlier in 2012, before 2013 general elections, Haroon’s father Bashir Ahmed Bilour was also assassinated in a suicide attack. He was a former minister and a prominent leader of ANP. Haroon was contesting elections from PK-78 on ANP ticket. Now, the election to this constituency is postponed.
Haroon, along with around 20 others, was killed on Tuesday, July 10, while campaigning. TTP immediately claimed the responsibility for the suicide attack. The assassination of Haroon also means that the ghost of killer 2013 elections may revisit Pakistan again.
The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is one of the most dangerous and its capital Peshawar, a dangerous city. Former cricketer and aspiring PM Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came to power along with Jamat-e-Islami (JI) in KPK in 2013. The TTP was most active during that period and ANP activists could not go out of their homes to campaign. Many of their activists were killed. This helped PTI.
The 2013 general elections were one of the most violent in the history of Pakistan. The data collected by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies states that between January 1 and May 15 2013, 148 attacks took place across Pakistan. Out of these, 37 were carried out against the ANP and 12 each against Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
The main target of terrorists is ANP and there is a history for that. The party led by Afsandyar came to power in then North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in 2008, after people experienced horrible regime of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The MMA was the alliance of religious parties, which came to power in 2002 in the background of US’ aggression on Afghanistan after Al Qaeda attacked the US. From the beginning, the ANP government supported anti-Taliban military operations in the province.
They also took certain steps to stop the rising influence of Mullah Fazlullah in Malakand area. He became a powerful militant leader in Swat Valley during MMA regime and had banned girl’s education in the region. Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai is from the Swat Valley and she was attacked at the instruction of Mullah Fazlullah. It is believed that he was also behind the attack on the Peshawar school in 2014, which killed 141 students and teachers. Fazlullah subsequently became the TTT supremo. He was killed in Kunar district of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan by the US in a drone strike last month. In the last few months, apart from Fazlullah, dreaded terrorists like Umar Rahman and Khalid Sajna have also been killed.
Afsandyar narrowly escaped, when his home was attacked on October 2, 2008, in his ancestral town Charsadda. He was not hurt although four people were killed. All these years ANP openly took a stand against militant organisations, while PTI and to some extent Nawaz Sharif’s party Pakistan Muslim League (N) shied away from condemning terrorist organisations. Bilour family is a courageous family. In the 1990s, Shabbir Bilour, a cousin of Haroon was also killed in an election-related violence. Haroon’s son Daniyal was to accompany him for the meeting but he was asked to join later and hence, survived. The Bilours are known for fighting against militants. Daniyal is also politically active.
The security agencies of Pakistan claims that the TTP has been defeated and it is now operating from Afghanistan. But, the attack on Haroon indicates otherwise. The attack on Haroon and his supporters was the first major attack during the election campaign. It must have demoralised the supporters of ANP. Keeping them restricted to home is the strategy of militant organisations. It means an advantage to PTI. But, Afsandyar categorically said that they will not succumb to militants and fight elections with all strength.
The caretaker government of Pakistan must provide proper security arrangement to the candidates and their supporters. The government and the Pakistani Army must give confidence to various political parties and especially to the ANP, PPP, PML (N) and MQM so that they can campaign without any kind of favour.