The assassination of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, the second-most senior member of the provincial cabinet in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has dealt another blow to Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban.
A suicide bomber struck when about 100 people, including the local leadership of Awami National Party, gathered at a meeting in Peshawar. The blast killed eight people, including Bilour. The province is in the frontline of the fight against militancy and is regularly hit by attacks.
Bilour has been a fierce opponent of the Pakistani Taliban and the group said he was targeted for the death of one of their elders. The secular Awami National Party, apart from ruling in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is also part of the Pakistan Peoples Party-led national coalition government in Islamabad.
The attack is a grim reminder of the danger of speaking out against militancy in a country where militants use the bullet at will. It also comes just months ahead of national elections, expected to be held in the spring. Such attacks will ultimately limit the ability of secular parties to organise public rallies and mobilise their voters.
The attack has spurred calls for immediate action against militants in the nearby tribal region of North Waziristan, a safe haven for the Taliban. US officials have long called for the military to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan, but Pakistani officials have said the army is over-stretched. They have also cited fears that an offensive will lead to retaliatory terrorist attacks in cities.
Apart from the attack, the killing of a man in a police station for desecrating the Quran, brought the focus back on the country’s blasphemy laws. At least 53 people have been killed in Pakistan since 1990 after being accused of blasphemy. Calls for repealing or revising blasphemy laws have met with strong resistance and two prominent advocates of changing the laws were assassinated last year.
With attacks in Pakistan taking place on a routine basis, the need of the hour is for a strong government that is determined to clamp down on militants and ensure the safety of all citizens.