ANP under attack once more

The party lost Haroon Bilour in a gruesome attack on a corner meeting 14 days before the general elections

ANP under attack once more
Moments after Awami National Party (ANP) Haroon Bilour leader arrived to attend a corner meeting in Peshawar’s Yakatoot area, a loud explosion jolted the gathering. The suicide attack has killed at least 19 people at the time of filing of the report, with others still critically injured. Among those killed was Bilour, who breathed his last at Lady Reading Hospital (LRH).

By the time the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack through Muhammad Khorasani, the group’s spokesman, it was merely a formality. The group has targeted the ANP for the better part of the past decade, targeting and killing many party leaders. Among those was Bashir Ahmed Bilour, Haroon’s father, who was killed by another TTP suicide attack in December 2012.

Early reports following the blast confirmed that Haroon Bilour was the intended target of the attack. However, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s inspector general of police has ordered the formation of a joint investigation team to file a detailed report in a week’s time.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority's list issued on Monday highlighting six political personalities that could be targeted did not include Bilour's name

While a Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) rally near Takhrikhel canal had been targeted earlier this month, which left seven people – including an MMA candidate – injured, the bombing at the ANP meeting is the first fatal attack in the lead up to the upcoming elections.

The 2013 elections had been marred by the TTP – which at the time exercised significantly more clout than it does now – targeting the campaigns of certain political parties. Among these, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the ANP were the most prominent.

The TTP’s animosity with the ANP goes back to the party’s tenure from 2008-2013, with the then KP government targeting many Taliban militants. TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had singled out the ANP as the intended target in many statements issued to the press at the time.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority’s (NACTA) list issued on Monday highlighting six political personalities that could be targeted did not include Bilour’s name.

“Six people include Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, Awami National Party leaders Asfandyar Wali and Ameer Haider Hoti, Qaumi Watan Party head Aftab Sherpao, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl leader Akram Khan Durrani and Hafiz Saeed’s son Talha Saeed. Moreover, there are threats to senior leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz,” NACTA Director Obaid Farooq told the Senate Standing Committee.

ANP General Secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussein was surprised not to see Haroon Bilour’s name on the Nacta list.

“Haroon Bilour’s name and mine were often in these lists. I was surprised to see that our names weren’t there this time. Maybe it is because we were easy targets and I couldn’t stop Haroon in time,” Hussein said.

The former KP information minister said that the ANP was being targeted again.

“There needs to be a proper investigation into the attack so that we know who all were involved. There are clear cut terrorist attacks and then there are those in which terrorists are being used by other people to fulfil certain objectives,” Hussein said.

While ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali condemned the attack and maintained that the party will participate in the upcoming elections as planned, analysts say that the killing would impact the ANP’s election campaign.

Senior journalist Umar Aziz Khan, who attended an ANP meeting in the Peshawar same area a few days before the attack, said there were concerns regarding attending party rallies even before Bilour’s killing.

“The idea that it is still dangerous to attend ANP meetings was still there, even before this blast. A somewhat inexplicable fear that unfortunately turned out to be true last night,” he said.

“The memories of 2013 were still vivid. Even though the ANP activists were thronging to the corner meetings, I was told that some were still being told by their families not to go. We think things have changed but a city like Peshawar, and a group like the ANP cadre would remember such things.”

Umar Aziz maintains that the ANP campaign would be affected by the Peshawar attack.

“[The ANP leaders] say they will continue their campaign. But it is impossible it won’t affect canvassing activity,” he said.