Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday once again appealed to the Hazara community to bury those killed in the attack in Balochistan's Mach area, calling on them to refrain from "blackmailing the premier".
Speaking at the launching ceremony of the Special Technology Zones Authority in Islamabad, he said that the government had assured the protesters that they will be compensated.
"We have accepted all of their demands. [But] one of their demands is that the dead will be buried when the premier visits. I have sent them a message that when all of your demands have been accepted [...] you don't blackmail the prime minister of any country like this.
"Anyone will blackmail the prime minister then," he said, adding that this included a "band of crooks" in apparent reference to the Pakistan Democratic Movement. "This blackmail has also been ongoing for two-and-a-half years."
The prime minister said that the protesters were informed that he will visit once they bury those slain in the attack. "I am using this platform to say that if you bury them today, I will go to Quetta to meet the families of the deceased.
"This should be clear. All of your demands have been met but you can't impose a condition which has [no logic]. So first, bury the dead. If you do it today then I guarantee you that I will come to Quetta today."
PM Imran's remarks come as Balochistan's Shia Hazara community continue its protest for the sixth straight day on Friday, refusing to bury those who were brutally killed over the weekend.
On Sunday, armed attackers had 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 the community have also held protests in other cities across the country.
Braving the biting cold, the mourners, including women and children, have refused to leave until the premier visits and the killers are brought to justice.
At the start of his address, the premier stated that the Hazara community has faced "the most cruelty". He said that the killing of the 11 coal miners in Mach was part of a conspiracy that he has been highlighting "since March".
"I had informed my cabinet and then gave public statements on this: India is trying its level best to spread chaos in Pakistan," he said, adding that this was focused on fanning the flames of sectarianism.
"I laud our intelligence agencies on the fact that they thwarted four major terrorist events. Despite this, a high profile Sunni aalim was killed in Karachi [...] with great difficulty we managed to quell the flames of a sectarian divide."
He added that as soon as the Mach incident took place, he first sent Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid and then two federal ministers — Ali Haider Zaidi and Zulfi Bukhari — to speak with the mourners and assure them that the government stood with them.
"We know, me especially, the kind of cruelty they have faced."
'PM used word blackmail for those doing politics'
Amidst widespread criticism over the premier's remarks, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said Prime Minister Imran had "used the word 'blackmailing' for the same people who do politics on every issue".
"The insensitive people lacking humanity are those who cannot resist political point-scoring even on tragedies," he wrote on Twitter, adding that the prime minister shared the grief of the oppressed and considered the provision of justice to the miners' families his first priority.
'PM ready to go when bodies are buried'
Addressing a press conference today, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said that the premier would travel to Quetta to meet with the grieving families as soon as the victims were laid to rest.
"It is Imran Khan's wish that he goes there and he is ready to go, there is no obstacle in him going," said Rasheed, adding that the premier wanted to hold a "detailed discussion" with the Hazara community once the victims are buried "so all issues can be resolved and decided peacefully".
"It is not about burials, it is about certain situations," he explained. "If the prime minister goes there and the crowd is removed and security in involved, that can also cause conflict and the corpses may get disrespected so it is better to go in an organised manner," he added.
The interior minister also lamented that the issue was being politicised. "There is a lot of time for politics, the next three months in this country are for politics," he said, adding however, that politics should not be done on the issue of burial of martyrs. "As soon as this issue is resolved, the prime minister will depart from here for them," he reiterated.
Incentives for IT sector
Talking about the launch of the authority, PM Imran said that Pakistan had failed to give incentives to the IT sector. "Even during the pandemic, the companies that gained were from the IT sector. So we have been left behind."
He said that purpose of the technology zones was to provide incentives to the industry so that it can provide job opportunities to the youth and up the country's exports. "The IT sector can play a huge role in this."
"I hope that this step will become an opportunity for the IT sector to boost our exports. We are also hoping for foreign investment in this regard," he said.