PESHAWAR / ISLAMABAD, Sept 23: The Prime Minister’s Office and the ANP disassociated themselves on Sunday from a bounty offered by Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour for anyone who kills the producer of an anti-Islam film.
Mr Bilour’s incitement to murder and particularly his invitation to Al Qaeda and the Taliban to do the job has placed the ANP in an embarrassing position and its acting president Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel said the party had sought a verbal explanation from the federal minister.
“We have talked to Mr Bilour and told him that it is inappropriate to invite terrorist organisations like Taliban and Al Qaeda to kill the filmmaker,” he said.
Senator Adeel said Mr Bilour had accused local and foreign media of twisting his statement.
“Offering bounty for the killer of the moviemaker was a personal view of the minister but the party has concerns over his invitation to Al Qaeda,” the acting ANP chief said.
He said the ANP was a liberal and secular party but a majority of its workers were Muslims.
The announcement of bounty was a matter of faith and the party had nothing to do with it, he said.
The minister made the offer of $100,000 for anyone killing the film-maker. His statement made headlines in the national and international media and sparked a controversy.
His announcement also shocked leaders of religious parties who had brought their workers to the streets against the film, but they refused to comment on it. “We can’t comment on it,” a leader said while ridiculing Mr Bilour’s statement.
Other leaders of ANP criticised Mr Bilour and said he should not have given such an ‘irresponsible’ statement.
“He has embarrassed the party which has always struggled against violence and is a torchbearer of secularism and liberalism in this region,” a senior leader said.
He said it was tragic to seek the help of terrorist organisations which had killed thousands of innocent countrymen over several years.
“In other words Mr Bilour has tried to bail out Al Qaeda and Taliban which have killed innocent people,” he said, adding that the minister should have left the cabinet and the party before making such a controversial offer. “Instead of instigating other people to kill the film-maker he should do this himself.”
In the federal capital, Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Shafqat Jalil said: “The federal government has absolutely nothing to do with the bounty announced by the minister”.
He said the prime minister had not only expressed his serious dismay over Mr Bilour’s completely uncalled for press conference, but also conveyed his displeasure to ANP’s leadership.
ANP spokesman Senator Zahid Khan said his party had been following the philosophy of non-violence for decades and “how can it support such a violent step?”.
“It is purely Mr Bilour’s personal stand which he also made clear at the press conference and the ANP leadership does not support such violent means.”
Answering a question, the spokesman said the minister, like other Muslims who had angrily reacted to the film, might have given the statement out of rage, but it had nothing to do with the party.
The spokesman said ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan was travelling with President Asif Ali Zardari to attend a United Nations General Assembly session and he had been informed about the development.
“He must be feeling disturbed and awkward at the UN due to what has been said by Mr Bilour because the press conference has been widely reported all over the world.”
According to sources in the PM’s secretariat, the minister had been asked to retract his statement but he had refused to do so.
“It’s very unfortunate that the country is already in the eye of the storm for violent protests against the movie which resulted in the death of over 20 people but responsible people are issuing such incendiary statements,” a government official said.
The sources said that if the minister remained adamant, a decision about his future would have to be taken by the ANP chief and President Zardari who were together in New York.
Khalid Hasnain adds from Lahore: Mr Bilour stuck to his guns and said on Sunday that he would not retract his offer. “I am a true believer and I cannot tolerate disrespect to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH),” he told Dawn.
He said he was a senior leader of the party and didn’t care about the objections being raised. “I do respect all leaders of my party,” he said.
He said his statement was based on his own sentiment and feelings “and I think there should be no criticism in this regard”.
ANP secretary general Ehsan Wyne said: “We will soon hold a meeting of our party’s central executive committee where Mr Bilour’s remarks will also be discussed.” He said Mr Bilour had served as ANP’s senior vice-president but had left the post after becoming a minister in accordance with the party’s policy.