PESHAWAR: A lawyer by profession, a businessman by occupation and a politician at heart, mild-mannered Bashir Bilour was beloved. He was a man who not only resisted but mastered fear with unparalleled courage. A year ago, on December 22, Bashir was killed in a suicide bombing incident.
Every Friday, Bashir Bilour would go for a drive – at times accompanied by police escorts.
He would roam the walled city, especially his constituency PK-1. He lost from the area for the first time in the 1988 elections to Ayub Shah. The failure launched a great political career for him; he never lost an election till he died.
Bilour was the only politician in Peshawar who, since the 1990 election, consistently kept his seat. Even the turmoil faced by Awami National Party (ANP) during Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s rule could not unseat him. Had he been alive, he would have most probably ridden the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf tsunami of 2013 to his own success.
As soon as he would step out of his well-loved Land Cruiser in the narrow alleys of the city, people would flock around him. Bashir, the politician and friend, would often remember everyone by name, and would surprise them by recalling their forefathers with familiarity. Being a charismatic politician, he would engage with the people around him. The interaction was not always picture perfect; Bashir would also tolerate harsh comments, but not always in silence.
It is hard for most people to believe that Bashir rarely ever used a mobile phone. If you wanted to reach him, you could find him at his house at 10am sharp, where he would hold court every morning. Known as a man of his word, Bashir’s yes was meant to be yes and no as no. Not only did he understand the psyche of his party workers, but he was also a master of tackling opposition. No event of Peshawar went unmarked by his presence. Be it a sorrowful or joyous, political or apolitical event, Bashir would make sure he responded to every invitation.
In the 2002 elections ANP lost in most constituencies. With a handful of members, Bashir acted as a constructive opposition leader, and helped ANP emerge victorious in 2008. Though Bashir did not make it to the chief minister’s slot, he remained a senior minister of the party. As an opposition leader, Bashir was known to have not created problems for the ruling government or trade barbs pointlessly.
The ANP stalwart continued to play a pivotal role in the party, and steered the ship through very choppy seas, littered with rifts and problems. Bashir not only held the party together at Wali Bagh, but actively visited various districts in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to save ANP from further divide.
The Bilours lay a lot of emphasis on respecting their elders and Bashir’s family life is also frequently cited as an example to others. Any decision taken by an elder in the house is considered final. Bashir would have never walked past his elder brother.
Whenever someone talked about threats to Bashir’s life, he would respond saying he had lived for 69 years and has to die some day. “Don’t you want my death to be a splendid one?” he would say.
Bashir Bilour stepped out of his house one year ago, dressed in his typical crisply-ironed clothes. His wife Nighat told him to take care of himself, saying militants have placed a bounty on his life. Bashir answered with a smile, as always, “I will take you to the grave before me. I am still younger than you and in good health.”
That evening, the loudspeakers of Peshawar mosques echoed with announcements of his death and the city was wrapped in the shroud of silence and grief. Within moments everything was at a standstill, the likes of which had not been observed before. Few people on earth live a great life and meet a great end; Bashir Bilour was one of them. His life and death will be remembered by our generations, and those to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2013.