Murder of ANP leader seen as Taliban attack on democracy

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

ANP members pray at the grave of Muhammad Shoaib Khan in Yar Hussain village, Swabi District, July 18. [Courtesy of Ashfaq Yusufzai]

ANP members pray at the grave of Muhammad Shoaib Khan in Yar Hussain village, Swabi District, July 18. [Courtesy of Ashfaq Yusufzai]

SWABI -- The killing of a former lawmaker in Swabi District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), this week brought the Taliban's campaign against democracy and the peace process into the limelight yet again.

Unknown assassins on a motorbike July 17 in Yar Hussain village gunned down an Awami National Party (ANP) leader, Muhammad Shoaib Khan.

Shoaib was a former member of the provincial assembly (MPA). At the time of his death, he was president of the Swabi Islahi Jirga (reform committee). He staunchly opposed violence and was known for his pro-peace activities.

Shoaib's party reacted with grief and outrage.

"Militants cannot bring the people into submission by assassinating supporters of democracy," ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan said in a statement. "There is growing resistance among the people, and they have stood up against militancy."

"We have suffered the most casualties [of any party] in the war against the Taliban," he said. "Our party will continue to support democracy and to condemn violence."

The ANP appreciates Shoaib's bravery, Asfandyar said. "He was elected MPA in 1997 and stood like a rock against terrorism during his 30-year-long political career," he said.

Shoaib enjoyed great local popularity and played a key role in preventing disputes through consultations and talks, a resident of Yar Hussain, Muhammad Rafiq, said.

"He prevented many problems from snowballing into major crises through his policy of peace," Rafiq told Central Asia Online. "A fearless man, Shoaib Khan was ready to face militants but he was attacked when he sat with villagers, unprepared."

'The people stand united against terrorism'

The militants fear democracy and seek to impose their own agenda on people through coercion and ruthlessness, said Himayat Ullah Mayar, the nazim of Mardan District, who attended Shoaib's funeral in the Yar Hussain village of Swabi.

"These acts are totally unacceptable and condemnable," he told Pakistan Forward. "We cannot allow miscreants to dictate to us."

"The Taliban have killed four members of the current KP Assembly during the past three years, but the people elected the brothers of [some of the slain] representatives with even more votes in by-elections," he added. "They are sending a message very loud and clear that the people want democracy and reject violence."

Police have confirmed in preliminary findings that Shoaib's death was a targeted killing, said Swabi District Police Officer Javid Iqbal.

"Investigations are in progress, but the modus operandi was similar to the one used by Taliban militants in previous attacks," he told Pakistan Forward.

The Taliban are focusing on "soft targets" because non-stop pounding by the Pakistani army has rendered them incapable of large-scale terrorist attacks, Peshawar-based Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a security analyst and former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), said.

"The militants, who once enjoyed public support, are now totally alone and cannot find places to hide," he told Pakistan Forward.

The Taliban demonstrate their weakness by targeting unarmed individuals, Shah said.

"The people should take protective measures, particularly the members of peace committees [lashkars], because they are at risk," Shah added.

Urge for peace

Senior ANP leader Ghulam Ahmad Bilour of Peshawar, a former federal railways minister who has survived three suicide attacks, vowed to continue to fight terrorism by all means.

"We will not allow anyone to undermine the democratic system," he told Pakistan Forward.

The Taliban killed his younger brother, KP Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour, in Peshawar in 2012.

"The militants' attacks have been ineffective," Bilour said. "There is an urge for peace. The people are now prepared to take on the enemies."

The ANP, which has lost about 800 members to Taliban assassinations and bombings since 2008, announced a 10-day period of mourning for Shoaib.

Shoaib's slaying was an act of cowardice, Peshawar-based ANP Secretary-General Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Pakistan Forward.

"The Taliban cannot intimidate us," he said. "Peace has prevailed in KP and FATA."

Iftikhar, whose only son was killed by militants in Pabbi, KP, in 2010, remains undaunted and denounces terrorism at every forum.

The army should continue its operations to crush militancy, he said.

Assassination deemed act of terrorism

As Shoaib had no known feuds with anyone, police are considering his assassination an act of terrorism.

"We have started a search for the suspected terrorists," said Aslam Khan, a police official in Yar Hussain.

"Terrorists attack soft targets to frighten others," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that the slaying resembles the Taliban assassinations of polio vaccinators in Swabi in 2015.

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