Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday urged the protesting members of Balochistan's Shia Hazara community to bury the bodies of the miners killed in a brutal attack in Mach, promising he would visit them "very soon".
On Sunday, armed attackers slit the throats of 11 miners in a residential compound near a mine site in Balochistan's Mach coalfield area, filming the entire incident and later posting it online. The gruesome attack was claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group.
Since then, thousands of Hazaras have staged a protest along with coffins containing the miners' bodies in the western bypass area in Quetta, while members of their community have also held protests in Karachi.
The protesters have said they will not bury the miners' bodies until Prime Minister Imran meets them and the killers are brought to justice, continuing their protest on Wednesday for a fourth straight day.
"I want to reassure the Hazara families who lost their loved ones in a brutal terrorist attack in Machh that I am cognisant of their suffering & their demands," the premier said on Twitter, adding that the government was taking steps to prevent such attacks in the future and knew that "our neighbour is instigating this sectarian terrorism."
"I share your pain and have come to you before also to stand with you in your time of suffering. I will come again very soon to offer prayers and condole with all the families personally," he said while addressing the mourning Hazaras.
"I will never betray my people's trust. Please bury your loved ones so their souls find peace."
Hashtags criticising Prime Minister Imran for not visiting the protesters and stressing 'Hazara Lives Matter' have been the top trends on Twitter in Pakistan during the last three days.
Meanwhile, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani also requested the protesters to "not link Prime Minister Imran's visit with the burials" of the miners.
Addressing a press conference in Quetta along with Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari and members of the Shia community, Alyani said that as Muslims, we "have our religious responsibilities [to bury the deceased]" and these should be fulfilled.
"I would request the community to not associate it with some official's visit," he added.
The minister and adviser arrived in the city late on Tuesday night.
Expressing grief over the incident, Alyani said that he was in the United Arab Emirates when he heard the news of the attack and he came back as soon he received negative results for his Covid-19 test. "I held a meeting with [officials from law enforcement agencies]," he said while talking about the steps his government has taken so far.
"Our coming here is witness to how serious we are taking this and owning this," he said, adding that the Shia Hazara community members "are our brethren and we have no hesitation in talking to them".
The chief minister said that conditions in the province had "improved considerably" since a decade ago and no such incident happened in 2020.
Alyani said his government did not look at people in terms of their ethnicity or religious affiliation. Mentioning how conditions had improved in the province over the last few years, he said he had also participated in several programmes in Quetta's Hazara Town.
"But the enemies of Balochistan and Pakistan did not like this. The Balochistan government is a very big stakeholder and we are making efforts to take things forward so citizens and children of this city can progress."
Referring to the 2019 blast in Quetta's Hazarganji market that was also targeted at the Hazara community, he said back then too the authorities had gone to visit the affected community and talked to them and the problem was "solved".
"We came here [today] to show solidarity with the whole community," he emphasised. "We will also visit the relatives [of the slain miners]. Wherever they are, we will go visit them."
Responding to a question about the protesters' demand for a visit by the premier, he said that "the biggest responsibility" lay with the Balochistan government.
"[The prime minister] will definitely come, the president will come, ministers and parliamentarians will come. But even if the prime minister comes, we have to solve our problems ourselves."
'Foreign hand in attacks'
Ali Zaidi, who spoke after the chief minister, too appealed to the Shia Hazara community to bury the deceased miners.
"We talked to the PM and he will come [but] for God's sake, the people who have been martyred should now be buried.
"Your demands are valid but please do not associate the burial with the PM's visit," he stressed.
He also urged people — irrespective of which party or religious sect they belonged — to "not play into foreign hands".
"The external enemies of Pakistan commit such acts in Pakistan. What is saddening is that we find Mir Sadiqs and Mir Jafars from among us," the minister said, adding that he could "present proof of foreign interference" in the country.
"[Indian spy] Kulbushan Jadhav was also arrested from Balochistan.
"[Before this,] the people of the army were killed and navy cadets too. This province is going in the right direction and these elements do not want that to happen," he added.
Maryam appeals to bury the bodies
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz too appealed to the protesters to bury their loves ones, conveying her condolences in a tweet.
"My grieving mothers and sisters. This barbaric murder of your loved ones is not an ordinary tragedy. The whole nation shares your grief. I and my father are also very sad but you shouldn't wait for a callous and stone-hearted person; he is not answerable to you or the nation," she wrote, referring to Prime Minister Imran.
Protests in Karachi
Separately, several roads were blocked in Karachi on Wednesday as protesters took to the streets, burning tyres and wood and disrupting traffic.
According to a police update, the protests, which were organised by the Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM), were happening at several places across the city, including Abbas Town, Abul Hasan Ispahani Road, Kamran Chowrangi at Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Power House Chowrangi in North Karachi, M. A. Jinnah Road, Sharea Faisal and Malir 15.
In another update, Karachi traffic police said the protests had spread to other areas of the city as well including Nipa Chowrangi.
A day earlier, members of the Hazara community staged sit-ins in various parts of the city including Abbas Town, Numaish, and outside the Karachi Press Club.
Over 200 men, women, and children from the Hazara community had gathered at the KPC, demanding that Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa ensure the safety of their community.