Haji Ghulam Bilour’s association with Awami National Party (ANP) is longer than that of any of its other active members. Born in 1939, the stalwart, popularly known as Haji Sahab, obtained his education from Khudad Model School, Islamia School Peshawar, and then Edwards College.
He participated in the 1965 election campaign of Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan, and joined ANP in the 1970s. Bilour has participated in all the elections since 1988, except for the 2002 polls. His home constituency is in Peshawar and is notorious for being unpredictable. In 1988, he lost the seat to Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao (although he later won it in a by-election when Sherpao vacated it in his bid for chief ministership), won it in 1990 against Benazir Bhutto, lost in 1993 to PPP’s Zafar Ali Shah and won again in 1997. He did not contest in 2002 but once again won from NA-1 (Peshawar – I) in 2008.
Bilour, who comes from a well-known and wealthy business family with longstanding ties with ANP, has also served time in jails on several occasions during his political career.
In 1997, the politician’s only son was killed at a polling station during a by-election, after he had a quarrel with PPP leader and former minister Syed Qammar Abbas. In 2007, when Abbas was killed by unidentified gunmen, four members of the Bilour family, including Ghulam, were nominated in the murder case. They all denied the charge.
In 2008, after being elected from NA-1, Bilour was appointed federal minister for railways. He has faced severe criticism in this regard, as he steered the institution during what many have called its worst ever financial crisis, amidst widespread corruption allegations. The minister was also implicated in the corruption scandal.
In 2011, Bilour was once again at the centre of a controversy after he placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the producer of an anti-Islam film called “Innocence of Muslims”. He also sought the help of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in his “noble cause”. The minister’s statement received widespread criticism from around the world. The ANP distanced itself from the announcement, although decided not to take any action against him.
Following the bounty announcement, Bilour was removed from the Pakistani Taliban’s hit-list who granted him “complete amnesty”. However, his brother, senior minister and fellow ANP member Bashir Bilour did not get off so easily and was assassinated in an attack in 2012 for which TTP claimed responsibility.
— Research and text by Heba Islam