Pakistani minister still on rails over bounty | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.10.2012
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Pakistani minister still on rails over bounty

A Pakistani politician's offer of a bounty for the killing of the maker of an anti-Islamic film has been roundly condemned, but he remains in post. Some say railways minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour has got off lightly.

When Pakistan Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour announced a reward for the killing of a filmmaker who sparked protests across the Muslim world, there was swift condemnation.

The Pakistani government distanced itself from Bilour's offer of a 100,000 US dollar bounty for the US filmmaker's life. Meanwhile, Bilour's own party, the Awami National Party (ANP) quickly disassociated itself from the remarks.

For many though, this is not enough, with calls for Bilour to stand down or be sacked.

The minister made the comments at a press conference at the Peshawar Press Club, a day after violent protests and rallies were held across Pakistan in response to the controversial film. He claimed that the murder of filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula would be a "noble deed" and called on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to extend support to the killer.

Questions arise, troubling answers

The Pakistani government was swift to respond and disown those statements, with the US registering its displeasure.

However, questions are now being raised about whether Islamabad should do more than merely distance itself from the comments. For Michael Kugelman, who is the South Asia Associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the US, it's not such a big surprise that it hasn't.

Women supporters of Pakistani religious group Tehreek-e-Minhaj-ul-Qaran participate in a demonstration

The film led to protests, both peaceful and violent

"The fact that he has not stepped down or no one has asked him to step down is a bit troubling, but I believe it will be asking for too much," Kugelman, a regular blogger on Pakistani politics, told DW. While Kugelman believes the Pakistani government's response had been satisfactory, he also claims it could have been better.

Kamal Siddiqi, the editor of Pakistan's Express Tribune, an affiliate of the International Herald Tribune, believes that Bilour is to some extent a scapegoat.

"In Pakistan, Bilour is not the only one who issues threats in public. He has just been caught on the bandwagon… other people have been issuing similar threats."

However, Kamal noted that the minister is lucky not to face graver sanctions than he has done, even beyond dismissal. "The first thing that should have happened is that his own party, the ANP should have expelled him. If it is a case of enticing murder, the government should arrest him, but then they should also arrest all the other people in Pakistan who have been issuing threats in some way or the other."

Spineless reaction to extremism

That the government has displayed an "amazing spineless character" is the contention of Talat Aslam, who is the Senior Editor with major Pakistani news publication The News.

"With anything to do with extremism, religious matters, the government seems to get cold feet and doesn't seem to have the confidence to take a strong stand," Aslam told DW.

Aslam believes the political leadership is cautious of taking action against Bilour because it fears this could bolster right wingers.

Certainly the degree to which the film caused widespread offense to the Pakistani public should not be underestimated, believes blogger Tazeen Hussain. "Because of the anti-Islam film, there is a lot of anger amongst the Muslims and this action by the politician was partly as a result of that anger," she said.

Far from usually being aligned with Islamists, Bilour is a member of Pakistan's Awami National Party - a secular party which has incurred maximum losses in the province of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa. The minister's remarks were therefore all the more ironic.

The critics may yet be satisfied. With leader of the ANP, Asfand Yar Wali Khan, currently in the US for the UN general assembly's conference there is speculation that - upon his return - some sort of action may be taken against Bilour.