PESHAWAR - Awami National Party vowed on Wednesday not to be swayed from its resolve to face down terrorists, a day after a TTP suicide bombing killed scores of its activists, including the politician son of a party leader assassinated in 2012.

ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan announced three-day mourning over the death of party leader Haroon Bilour but vowed that his party would actively participate in the July 25 general elections – though he expressed reservations over free and fair polls in the prevailing situation.

He was talking to media persons here after offering collective funeral prayers of Haroon and nine party workers, who were killed in the attack at an election rally in Yakkatoot area of Peshawar on Tuesday.

The death toll from the suicide hit had risen to 21 on Wednesday and most of the victims were young ANP activists.

Asfandyar alleged that their party was being pushed to the wall but they will not be deterred and will participate in the elections and emerge victorious.

The funeral prayers Haroon, who was contesting elections for PK-78, were offered on Wednesday at Wazir Bagh amid tight security and attended by thousands of party members, politicians from different parties and people from all walks of life. He was later laid to rest at Syed Hasan Pir Graveyard.

His father, Bashir Ahmad Bilour had also been killed in a similar attack in 2012 election campaign. That suicide blast was also claimed by the banned Thereek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

A picture of Daniyal Bilour, a son of Haroon Bilour, has gone viral on social media, in which he is sitting atop the ambulance carrying his father’s body.

Initially it was reported that Daniyal too had been killed in the blast but luckily these reports turned out to be false. Daniyal Bilour while sitting on the top of the ambulance raised slogans, ‘Zinda hai Bilour zinda hai’ (Bilour is alive). Daniyal is being praised for the courage and bravery.

ANP and its adversaries

The ANP is a secular party that draws its strength chiefly from the Pashtun ethnic group, which ironically also provides the Taliban with many recruits. The party has long competed with the militant groups in country’s northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.

“We want peace on our soil and will stand with our people,” said senior party leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who also had lost his only son in a militant attack eight years ago. “One thing is clear: We will stand in the field against the terrorists,” he told a foreign news agency.

The ANP’s insistence that Pakistan should have a secular government instead of rule by Islamic law has made it a target for the Pakistani Taliban, which groups militant and sectarian bands that have waged war on the state for more than a decade.

Once a leading force in socially conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the party and its leaders have spent five years rebuilding after the Taliban killed hundreds of its activists ahead of Pakistan’s last election in 2013.

More than 700 party workers were killed in attacks during and after the election that year, when the ANP won only two national assembly seats.

Last year, it resumed campaigning on its anti-militancy platform, holding workers’ conventions and rallies in the province and the southern city of Karachi, which is home to more than 5 million Pashtuns.

At elections on July 25, the party is setting its sights on winning a few National Assembly seats and possibly more in the provincial assembly. Success would mean a modest comeback after the party won elections in 2008 to lead the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for five years.

Although violence has ebbed in Pakistan in recent years, following offensives by the army on militant strongholds in the northwest, many militants have escaped to Afghanistan, from where Pakistan says they launch attacks across the border.

“Our people are frightened ... but we have faced it all,” said party official Noorullah Achakzai.

Party campaign adviser Zakir Hanif was forced to leave Karachi after his father Haji Muhammad Hanif, a senior party figure, was killed in 2011, and his family business, a small pharmacy, was bombed.

Believing security in the country has vastly improved, Hanif has now returned, hoping to revive the party’s fortunes. “Fear has eroded our lives,” Hanif said. “Fear will get us if we don’t take part in the elections.”

Asfand’s media talk

Talking to media persons, ANP president said the party would resume election campaign after the three-day peaceful protest mourning.

He said that they could not be deterred through such acts of cowardice and would never leave the field open for the people having anti-human agendas.

In the prevailing situation, Asfand however said, they were not expecting free and fair election or a level-playing field after such brutal attack on their election campaign. Their patience is being tested, he added.

“First our precious asset, Bashir Bilour, was martyred in 2012 and now his son Haroon Bilour has been killed in the same way and no one knows why,” the ANP chief remarked. “Haroon was just like my son Aimal Wali and for me there is no difference between them. His death has affected me deeply,” he added.

He maintained that ANP was under attack because “our opponents know that no one can have the hold on Peshawar as long as ANP is in political arena”.

“Our three days mourning will be peaceful,” he said, adding that he would be happy if other parties joined them in this time of trial. When Benazir was killed in Rawalpindi in 2007, the ANP along with PPP had observed mourning and strongly condemned the attack on her, he added.

Expressing sympathies with the families of those who lost their loved ones in Tuesday’s blast, Asfandyar said that he has no words to condole with them. He however asked his workers to be patient and peaceful in all the situations.

To a question, the ANP president said not every man with a beard is a Talib. “We are unable to recognise our enemy but they recognise us and attack us easily. He said that instead of attacking them from the back, their rivals should confront them from the front.

Bilawal’s announcement

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has also announced to suspend his political activities for a day in the wake of the deadly suicide attack. He also announced to call off his rally in Peshawar which was scheduled to take place today (Thursday).

“In solidarity with Bilour family and the ANP, I have suspended political activities for today and Peshawar jalsa. Join ANP in reaffirming elections should be held on time,” Bilawal said in his social media message.

Funeral

Strict security measures were adopted at the site of funeral of ANP leader and other activists and people were allowed to enter the ground for offering funeral after body search. Apart from ANP leadership and workers, leaders and members of other political parties also joined in to pay tribute to slain Haroon Bilour.

Prominent among those who attended the funeral were former KP chief minister Aftab Sherpao, Shahi Syed, Ghulam Bilour, Amir Haider Hoti, former KP information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, former health minister and PPP leader Syed Zahir Ali Shah, ANP leader and former KP minister for primary education Sardar Hussain Babak.

Majority of the victims of Tuesday’s attack on ANP’s corner meeting were youngsters. The victims were identified as Zameer Khan, son of Madad Khan, 18, Arif Hussain, son of Qamabar Ali, 25, Haji Gul, son of Sheikh Jan, 45, Imranullah, son of Usman Khan, 30, Najeeb, son of Rehmatullah 20, Shoaib, son of Shafiullah, 19, Asif, son of Tawas, 28, Huzaiafa, son of Naveed, 12, while a young in his early 20s could not be identified.

The police after the incident registered a case at Agha Mir Jani Shah police station, with SHO Wajid Ali as the complainant.

JIT constituted for probe

KP Caretaker Chief Minister Justice (r) Dost Muhammad Khan directed to bring the perpetrators, handlers and facilitators of Yakatoot suicide attack to justice as expeditiously as possible. He also approved compensation for the martyrs and injured in the suicide attack.

The chief minister chaired an emergency meeting of the caretaker cabinet and administration, which was briefed about initial details of the suicide blast and the information collected from the scene.

He formed a 7-member joint investigation team, besides forming a sub-committee of the cabinet to be headed by himself which would review and evaluate the reports of the JIT twice a week.

On the occasion, he said that the KP government would go all out to do all within its reach to bring the perpetrators to justice. It is necessary to investigate and bring to limelight the actual motives behind the suicide attack because the government wants peaceful, free and impartial elections and is busy to take all the required steps in this regard, he said.

He directed for devising plan for effective security including constant surveillance and monitoring, new methods of investigation, enhanced coordination and intelligence gathering and sharing. He also asked for monitoring all entry routes to the province.

High alert

The police force has been directed to remain on high alert and make snap checking more effectively at all entry and exit points of the city. The police and counter-terrorism department have also been carrying out joint search operations in various areas and security of the provincial metropolis has been beefed up.

Directions have been issued to regional police officers and district police officers that candidates must take permission from concerned police stations before holdings corner meetings so that proper security could be given to them. Police have been directed to provide security on prior information of holding rallies and corner meetings.

Bilours a prime target of terrorism

Bilour family has faced worst kind of terrorism with bravery and has demonstrated immense courage despite repeated terrorists’ attacks in which several of their key members were assassinated.

The family saw tragic death of Shabbir Ahmed Bilour, lone son of former federal minister and seasoned politician, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, who was also martyred in a firing incident during election campaign in 1997.

The trauma of Bashir Ahmed Bilour, assassinated in a corner meeting at historic Qissakhwani Bazaar on December 22, 2012 was not yet over when his elder son, Haroon Bilour met the same fate on July 10.

Usman Ahmed Bilour, who died after cardiac arrest, has also saddened the entire family.

The tragic death of Haroon Bilour has not only saddened the entire Bilour family, relatives and the ANP workers but also residents of Peshawar who are coming in large number to Bilour House to offer condolence to members of the bereaved family.

Condolences

Afghan Counsellor General in Peshawar, politicians including Anwar Saifullah, PTI’s Ishtiaq Urmer, Shah Farman, Armir Ayub, Asfandar Wali and other visited Bilour House and offered fateha for the departed soul and expressed sympathies with Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, uncle of Haroon Bilour.

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa also expressed condolence over the death of Haroon Bilour and other victims of the blast.

According to a tweet by ISPR DG, Qamar Bajwa shared the grief of Bilour family and ANP on condemnable targeting of Haroon Bilour and victims of heinous terrorist attack.

He said, “We are fighting against nexus of inimical forces which are not willing to absorb a peaceful and stable pakistan. We will remain undeterred and defeat them.”

The legal fraternity observed strike and boycott of court proceedings to condemn the attack. The Peshawar High Court Bar Association and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Bar Council had given the strike call. The KP Bar Council also announced three-day mourning to condemn the attack.

The legal fraternity has demanded of the government to make sure safety of political leaders contesting elections and take strict security measures to ensure law and order situation for holding general elections.