Despite Prime Minister Imran Khan's request to move ahead with the final rites of the slain miners and an assurance that he would visit them "very soon", Balochistan's Shia Hazara community continued to protest for a fifth straight day on Thursday, refusing to bury those who were brutally killed over the weekend in the province's Mach area.
Sources told Dawn that the prime minister has decided to visit Quetta "soon" to express solidarity with the members of the community but the date and time of his visit are "being kept secret due to security concerns".
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 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.
Despite extremely harsh weather as the mercury drops to below freezing point, the mourners, including women and children, have refused to leave until the premier meets them and the killers are brought to justice.
A day earlier, the prime minister, in a series of tweets, said that he was aware of the Shia Hazara community's "suffering & their demands", 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," the prime minister said.
In-depth: I am Hazara
Day-long efforts by Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari on Wednesday 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.
Several other attempts by both federal and provincial authorities also failed.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who had met the protesters on Monday, had announced Rs2.5 million would be paid to each victim's family as compensation.
Earlier today, the chief minister once again appealed to the protesters to bury the miners citing "religious obligations".
Meanwhile, the Anjuman Tajran Balochistan has called for a shutter down strike in Quetta.
Bilawal, Maryam to visit
Meanwhile, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz are both due to visit the Shia Hazara community today to "show solidarity" with them.
"Have been trying to reach Quetta with CM Sindh & Former PM Gillani. We’ve had to off load as the planes engine would not start. Trying to make other arrangements. PM must accept demands of the victims of terrorism protesting along with their dead for 5 days now," Bilawal tweeted.
Maryam will also request the community to bury the miners. In a tweet on Wednesday, Maryam said: "On the direction of Nawaz Sharif I’m going to my sisters and brothers (in Balochistan) with a request to hand over their dead to Allah Almighty. I am sure they will not reject my request. For the last four days the Hazara community has been calling the heartless in Islamabad."
She asked the mourners not to wait for an "insensitive and heartless man" (Imran Khan) and appealed to them to bury their dead. "May Allah elevate their ranks in the hereafter and grant you patience."