PESHAWAR: In an incident that shocked the country, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour was assassinated in a suicide attack in the Dhaki Naalbandi locality in the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar here on Saturday.
Eight other people, including Station House Officer (SHO) of the Khan Raziq Police Station, Abdul Sattar Khattak, and Noor Muhammad, personal assistant of Bashir Bilour, were also killed in the suicide bombing.
The banned Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), meanwhile, accepted the responsibility for the attack.
Bashir Bilour, a leader of the ruling Awami National Party (ANP), became the most prominent politician to die in the terrorist-related violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He was also the most senior leader of the ANP, which has lost more activists in the ‘war on terror’ than any other political party, to lose his life in the attacks by the militants.
Bashir Bilour, 69, and his elder brother Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour were attending a meeting at Dhaki Naalbandi where the elders of the area announced joining the ANP when a suicide bomber detonated explosives tied to his body close to the senior minister when he was leaving the venue. “It was a suicide blast. The skull and feet of the bomber have been recovered,” Assistant Inspector General (AIG) Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shafqat Malik told ‘The News’.
He said steel pellets and five to six kilograms of explosives were used in the blast that also damaged nearby houses and shops.
Ghulam Bilour said he was also present at the rally. “I stayed behind to chat with those having tea while Bashir left the venue and was targeted,” he said.
Ghulam Ahmad Bilour lost his only son Shabbir Ahmad Bilour in a clash during the general election campaign in 1996 and was separated from his younger brother on Saturday. “My brother was a brave man. Everyone has to die, but my brother faced death with bravery. We will continue fighting for the sake of our country till our last breath,” said Ghulam Ahmad Bilour.
Eyewitnesses said Bashir Bilour along with the SHO, his personal secretary and other people, had left the venue of the meeting when the suicide bomber in his early 20s ran towards him in the street. The bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body close to Bashir Bilour before the police commandos could intercept him.
The locals said the bomber was roaming in the area for some time and had purchased something from a nearby shop. He was wearing white socks and black Peshawari slippers and seemed to be a local.
The eyewitnesses said ANP leaders, workers and other people ran towards Bashir Bilour after the dust had settled. The critically wounded minister and others were rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital located close to the site of the blast. SHO Abdul Sattar Khattak and Noor Muhammad, commonly known as Noor Muhammad Babu, died on the spot.
Others killed in the blast were identified as Bakhtawar, Mian Pervez Hussain, Mahmudul Hassan, Abdul Mateen, Hashim Khan and Shahid Khan.
The injured included Zeeshan, Jaffar, Zahid, Amir Jan, Majid Shah, Sher Khan, Abid Khan, Altaf Hussain, Sher Abbas, Storikhel, Muhammad Jamal, Usman, Ashoor Khan, Mian Zulfiqar, Samiuddin, Khyal Muhammad and Gul Ahmad.
A state of emergency was declared at the LRH where a large number of ANP workers had gathered after they came to know about the attack. All the roads leading to the hospital were blocked and traffic diverted to other routes for security reasons.
Doctors at the LRH said Bashir Bilour had sustained critical wounds in his chest and abdomen as the suicide bomber exploded himself close to him. Dr Jamil Shah, a senior doctor at the LRH, told reporters that Bashir Bilour was operated upon after being brought in a critically injured condition.
Senior ANP leaders and politicians belonging to other political parties, federal and provincial ministers, legislators and a large number of ANP workers visited Bashir Bilour’s residence, located close to the tightly guarded US Consulate General on the barricaded Hospital Road, to pay their tributes and offer condolences to his family.
Bashir Bilour had survived a suicide attack outside the Qayyum Sports Complex on Bara Road and another in Namakmandi in the past. There were serious threats to his life and extraordinary security was provided to him owing to his bold stance against militancy.
He was one of the two senior ministers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the other being PPP’s Rahimdad Khan, and remained the provincial president of the ANP. He was tipped to become the chief minister after the 2008 general elections, but the job eventually went to Ameer Haider Hoti.
Bashir Bilour was the brother of Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Senator Ilyas Ahmad Bilour and retired bureaucrat Aziz Ahmad Bilour.
He won five consecutive elections for the provincial assembly from Peshawar city. Even when all the ANP candidates lost to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) nominees in Peshawar, Bashir secured his seat from the provincial assembly constituency PF-3, now PK-3.
ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, while terming the killing of Bashir Bilour a national tragedy, said he would miss him like one misses his brother. “The death of Bashir Bilour is a national tragedy. My relation with him was not confined to politics only,” Asfandyar Wali said.
Syed Aqil Shah, provincial Minister for Sports, was seen crying. “He was a brave soul. We have lost a precious person. He used to reach the site of blasts before others to boost the morale of the people,” he said. The minister said the ANP would continue fighting militants.
“We have lost another brave soul. The ANP has sacrificed over 700 lives over the last few years. This is a big loss for us,” ANP senior vice president Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel said. He recalled that Bashir Bilour used to say that he wanted to become a martyr.
Bashir Bilour was born on August 1, 1943. He practiced law until 1970. He was awarded Sitara-e-Jurrat for his stand against militancy. His sons, Haroon Bilour and Usman Bashir Bilour, also contested assembly elections in 2002 and 2008 and lost. Haroon Bilour was once elected as Nazim of Town-1 Peshawar.
President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, ANP chief Asfandyar Ali Khan, former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, Jamaat-e-Islami head Munawar Hassan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, MQM chief Altaf Hussain and federal and provincial ministers condemned the killing of Bashir Bilour and others in the Peshawar blast.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced a three-day mourning on his the death. Provincial Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the national flag would fly at half-mast to mourn the death of the veteran politician.
The federal and Punjab government announced one day of mourning. The MQM announced three-day mourning for Bashir Bilour despite the fact that it has often been at loggerheads with the ANP.
According to the ANP Peshawar chapter, Bashir Bilour’s Namaz-e-Janaza would be offered today at 2 pm at the Army Stadium, renamed as the Colonel Sher Khan Stadium.
The funeral prayers of SHO Sattar Khattak were offered at Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines at 11 pm. Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti and Governor Barrister Masood Kausar attended the funeral prayers.
Mushtaq Yusufzai adds: Spokesperson for the outlawed TTP Ihsanullah Ihsan called this correspondent from an undisclosed location and claimed that ‘insiders in the ANP’ had informed them about the party’s meeting in Peshawar city in which senior party leaders were scheduled to participate.
“We were told that Bashir Bilour and other ANP leaders would come to attend the party meeting in the old part of Peshawar, so we arranged the suicide bomber to carry out the mission,” the TTP spokesperson claimed; however, he didn’t provide details about the status of his informers in the ANP.
He said Bashir Bilour was on top of their hit-list and they had carried out a number of attacks in the past to kill him.
Ihsanullah said the leadership of the ANP and MQM would remain on their hit list for what he called their secular and pro-West policies.
A large number of ANP activists gathered at the LRH and anxiously waited for the doctors to inform them about the condition of their leader.
After an hour, Dr Arshad Javed along with senior doctors came out of the operation theatre looking visibly sad and informed senior ANP leaders that the life of Bashir Bilour couldn’t be saved.
The ANP leaders and activists burst into tears and rushed forward to get to the operation theatre to catch a glimpse of their slain leader. His body was later shifted to his residence in Peshawar.
Agencies add: In his separate message, the president said the sacrifice of Bashir Bilour against terrorism would not go to way waste. He said the entire nation is united against terrorism and its resolve would not weaken. He said the political services of Bashir Bilour would always be remembered.
Prime Minister Ashraf, in his statement, condemned the killing, saying that he was a courageous person and sacrificed his life for his beliefs.
In a message of condolence to the family of Bashir Ahmad Bilour‚ the prime minister said that “this is not a loss to his family or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but a national loss”.
National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza and Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad also condemned the killing of Bashir Bilour.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also condemned the Peshawar blast and termed it another cowardly attempt by the terrorists hiding in holes to frighten our brave nation.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain deplored the suicide attack at the ANP meeting. In a statement, Altaf expressed heartfelt condolences to the families of the people who lost their loved-ones in the deadly attack including the grieving family of Bashir Bilour.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik while condemning the attack has sought a report about the incident from IG Police‚ Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira condemned the Peshawar blast and said Bashir Bilour lost his life while fighting against terrorism.
The information minister said: “It is a very unfortunate and tragic incident.”
He said: “No compromise will be made in the fight against terror.”
PML-Q Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Syed and Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman also condemned the Peshawar blast.
Our correspondents add from Lahore: PML-N President Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, condemning the bomb blast in Peshawar, expressed sorrow and grief over the loss of precious lives including that of Bashir Ahmed Balour.
In a message, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif offered condolences to the bereaved families of those killed and prayed for rest to the departed souls and the early recovery of the injured.
Former prime minister and PPP Senior Vice Chairman Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani stated such acts wouldn’t lower the spirit of nation.