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In Pakistan, the Taliban is praising a federal cabinet minister. That's because he offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills the maker of a video that disparages the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The bounty offer, which was extended to the Taliban and al-Qaida, sparked international condemnation. But in an NPR interview, the Pakistani Cabinet minister stands by it. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Ghulam Ahmed Bilour says he's a man of great faith and passionately devoted to the Prophet Muhammad. The slight, silver-haired minister of railways says he was angry when he saw the online video portraying the prophet as a womanizer and child molester. Bilour says he could not tolerate any insult to Muhammad and felt he had to do something about it.
GHULAM AHMED BILOUR: (Through Translator) I thought the U.S. and Europe would make some law prohibiting any insult to any prophet, but that did not happen. Since they did not make the law, then I thought this is the way to stop it.
NORTHAM: Pakistan's government and Bilour's own secular political party have distanced themselves from the Cabinet minister. Bilour says he doesn't care.
BILOUR: (Through Translator) I said it in my personal capacity and not as a member of the government and because of the fact that I have political vision, and I think that was important.
NORTHAM: The government may dismiss Bilour's offer, but the Pakistani Taliban has embraced him. A spokesman for the group told local reporters that the Taliban is taking Bilour off its hit list. Bilour's bounty offer has also garnered support from some of Pakistan's Islamist politicians, such as Hafiz Hussain Ahmed. On a poor phone line, Ahmed says he's a political opponent of Bilour's, but he agrees if someone ridicules the prophet, the punishment is death.
HAFIZ HUSSAIN AHMED: (Through Translator) Did you not see hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets saying a blasphemer should be beheaded? This is our Islamic order and law. If a person like Bilour belonging to a secular party has such feelings, then you should easily understand what may be the feelings of an ordinary Pakistani.
NORTHAM: But Muhammad Malik, senior editor of Dunya News, one of the leading news channels in Pakistan, sees things with a more jaundiced eye. He says Bilour's offer is a desperate attempt to get publicity, that as the minister of Pakistan's decrepit railway system, Bilour has been a failure. Malik says Bilour may also have been trying to curry favor with his highly conservative constituents in the northwest city of Peshawar. He says one of the targets during recent violent demonstrations in Peshawar was movie theaters.
MUHAMMAD MALIK: One of the cinemas was owned by Mr. Bilour, and I think it made a lot of sense for him to - political and business sense for him to sort of come out very strongly because these things could always happen again, and maybe he was buying some security for a future mob attack or anybody targeting the cinemas.
NORTHAM: Malik says Bilour has made several controversial statements over the years and is often the butt of jokes. He says many Pakistanis question whether the elderly Cabinet minister is still all there.
MALIK: Nobody takes Bilour seriously in Pakistan. Now, the problem is the West or the other countries, they don't know him. So for him - for them, he's just (unintelligible) they see, oh, he's a federal minister for railways and he's made such an idiotic statement, such big deal. But over here, we know Bilour. I would say, by his standards, it's a pretty sensible thing that he's done.
NORTHAM: And for his part, Bilour says he has no regrets about offering the bounty. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Islamabad.
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