• Appeals for burial of slain miners
• Balochistan CM, two federal cabinet members’ talks with protesters yield no result
ISLAMABAD/QUETTA: Amid escalating criticism in the country and on the advice of several senior cabinet members, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to visit Quetta “soon” to express solidarity with the members of the Shia Hazara community, who have been protesting in Quetta for the last four days along with the bodies of the coal miners killed in Sunday’s terrorist attack in the Mach area, Dawn has learnt through sources.
“The date and time of the prime minister’s visit are being kept secret due to security concerns, but he (the PM) will pay a surprise visit very soon,” said a senior member of the federal cabinet while talking to Dawn on Wednesday hours after the prime minister appealed to the protesters to bury the bodies of the miners, promising that he would visit them “very soon.”
The minister, who is privy to behind the scene developments that had taken place after the gruesome murder of 11 miners, claimed that a number of cabinet members, including Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, had suggested to the prime minister during the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that he should undertake a visit of Quetta to pacify the mourners.
Asked why the prime minister had not visited the city so far, he said it was simply because of “security concerns”. Moreover, the minister said Mr Khan was of the view that his visit on the protesters’ demand could set a new precedent and if a terror attack took place tomorrow in any part of the country, then the people would make a similar demand that they wanted to see the prime minister before burying the victims.
Mourners continue protest
Despite extremely harsh weather as mercury dropped to below freezing point, the mourners, including women and children, have refused to leave the Western Bypass area close to Hazara Town in Quetta as their protest entered the fourth day on Wednesday.
The day-long efforts of federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari and Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani to persuade the protesters to bury the bodies of the slain miners proved futile as the protesters refused to do so without having a meeting with the prime minister.
The two members of the federal cabinet had arrived in Quetta on Tuesday night after the protesters had rejected a similar call by Sheikh Rashid, who had visited Quetta on Monday.
“I want to reassure the Hazara families who lost their loved ones in a brutal terrorist attack in Mach that I am cognisant of their suffering & their demands,” the prime minister said on Twitter, adding that the government was taking steps to prevent such attacks in the future and “know 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,” the prime minister said while addressing the mourning Hazaras.
“I will never betray my people’s trust. Please bury your loved ones so their souls find peace,” Mr Khan appealed to the protesters.
Earlier in the day, a 90-second video clip showing SAPM Zulfi Bukhari talking to some Hazara protesters in Quetta went viral on social media and received widespread criticism. He was shown asking the protesters as to what responsibility would they be taking when the prime minister would visit them.
“We say that we will bring him (the PM). He will come soon. We have promised with you,” Mr Bukhari said.
“God forbid, if tomorrow another incident takes place somewhere in Pakistan then they (the people) will say we want this and we don’t want this. If tomorrow someone else gets martyred, he will say we want this and don’t want this,” Mr Bukhari said to the protesters in the clip.
Later, talking to Dawn, Mr Bukhari said the context of the conversation was different and “this clip shows it out of context.”
The SAPM expressed the hope that they would resolve the matter by Thursday morning. He said that he had held negotiations with the protesters and told them that the government was ready to talk with them on their demands. He said that they had suggested to the protesters to hold talks with them and the prime minister would visit them when they would reach an agreement.
On the other hand, Syed Agha Raza of the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen told the Balochistan chief minister and the two federal ministers that they would not bury the bodies till arrival of the prime minister in Quetta.
The chief minister visited the sit-in site and the Imambargah in Hazara Town and assured the mourners that he would take steps to ensure arrest of the terrorists involved in the incident and bring them to justice.
The chief minister expressed grief over the tragic incident and asked the mourners not to link the burial of the bodies of the coal miners with the prime minister’s visit.
“I take responsibility for the prime minister’s visit to Quetta to listen to your grievances and assure you that the federal and provincial governments will take joint steps to resolve the issues,” Mr Alyani said.
He said the enemies of the stability in Balochistan did not like peace and order in the province and hatched conspiracies to destabilise the situation. He said Balochistan had been burning for the past 10 years but now the situation had improved in the province to a great extent.
“We do not want to return back to the earlier situation and would take coordinated measures to suppress law and order-disturbing elements, including the ISIS,” he added.
Mr Alyani said he was abroad when the tragic incident took place. He apologised over the delay in returning to Quetta as he was required to undergo coronavirus test before travelling.
The chief minister said the law enforcement agencies were taking all steps to prevent terrorism and it had resulted in reducing terrorist attacks in the province. He said after the 18th Amendment, many matters came under the purview of the provincial government and even after the prime minister’s visit to Quetta, the problems had to be resolved by the provincial government.
“He [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,” he said.
“Suspending someone is not the solution to the problem,” the CM said.
Mr 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.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Zaidi said the protesters’ demands were valid “but please do not associate the burial with the PM’s visit.”
“The external enemies of Pakistan commit such acts in Pakistan. What is saddening is that we find Mir Sadiqs and Mir Jafars among us,” he said, adding that he could “present proof of foreign interference” in the country and recalling that Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav was arrested from Balochistan.
Protests over the Mach tragedy also continued in other parts of the country, including Islamabad and Karachi.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2021