Most opposition lawmakers who spoke in the debate in the National Assembly Monday on the Shikarpur incident targeted either perceived terrorist groups and their “apologists” or the government’s alleged weaknesses.
But a senior lawmaker of the opposition Awami National Party (ANP), Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, chose the occasion to stage what appeared to be only a publicity stunt of his own by announcing his readiness to pay a $100,000 bounty he offered in 2012 to the heirs of three militants who made deadly attacks on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris last month.
Mr Bilour had originally announced the bounty in Sept 2012, when he was railways minister in the PPP-led coalition government, for anyone who would kill the maker of a video produced in the United States which included caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) considered blasphemous.
But in his speech in the National Assembly on Monday he said the heirs of the three men killed by French police – two of them who killed 12 people in the attack on the magazine, including the magazine’s editor and some cartoonists – were entitled to receive the bounty after their whereabouts were ascertained by the government of Pakistan.
But he said he would not be content with this and would give $200,000 more as bounty to anyone who would finish off the owner of Charlie Hebdo.
Nobody endorsed, neither did anyone oppose, the first outburst of its kind inside parliament and even Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq made no objection.
According to a statement of assets and liabilities filed with the Election Commission in June last year, the value of Mr Bilour’s moveable and immovable assets stands at Rs39,155,588 (39.15 million) ($387,679). If he has to pay all the three bounties, Mr Bilour will be left with just $87,679.
Bilour’s association with 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.
Bilour’s constituency for the 2013 election, once again NA-1, is in the spotlight this time around as well, with the ANP heavyweight running against Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan.
The article was compiled from a report by Raja Asghar and a profile of the politician researched and written by Heba Islam.
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