Hazara protesters end Quetta sit-in after talks with govt

Published January 9, 2021
People from the Shia Hazara community gather around the caskets of coal mine workers who were killed by unknown gunmen near the Machh coalfield, during a sit-in protest, in Quetta on Monday, Jan 4, 2020. — AP/File
People from the Shia Hazara community gather around the caskets of coal mine workers who were killed by unknown gunmen near the Machh coalfield, during a sit-in protest, in Quetta on Monday, Jan 4, 2020. — AP/File

A government team and members of the Hazara community protesting in Quetta against the killing of miners in Mach reached an agreement late on Friday night after which the protesters agreed to bury the bodies of the slain miners, which lay in coffins at the protest site.

The decision was announced by a representative of the Shuhuda Action Committee, Agha Raza, at the Quetta sit-in, where Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal, federal Maritime Minister Ali Zaidi, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri and Special Assistant to the PM on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukari were present to hold talks with the protesters.

Announcing the decision to end the sit-in, Raza said the community had gathered here to protest solely on the wishes of the relatives and families of the slain miners and the decision to end the protest had also been taken after their "satisfaction".

"God willing, we will lay our martyrs to rest with complete discipline and reverence," Raza said, adding that all demands of the victims' families had been agreed to by the government. He requested those holding sit-ins across the country to also end their protests.

In his address to the gathering on the occasion, CM Jam Kamal struck a particularly conciliatory tone, apologising to the Hazara community and the relatives of the miners who had braved six nights on the roads alongside the bodies of their loved ones in biting cold.

"I apologise on behalf of my government. We [the government] definitely were negligent in one way or the other and there is nothing wrong in apologising to our people, our nation," Kamal said, thanking the mourners for agreeing to go ahead with the burials.

PM, Army chief to visit

Kamal also announced that Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran will visit Quetta and meet the bereaved families soon.

NA Deputy Speaker Suri, while addressing the protesters later, announced that PM Imran and Gen Bajwa will visit Quetta right after the burials and will condole with the bereaved families and members of the Hazara community.

The protesters had earlier refused to call off the sit-in and bury their dead unless Prime Minister Imran Khan visited them and addressed all their concerns, continuing their sit-in alongside the coffins for six days before ending it late on Friday.

The development comes after PM Imran had earlier in the day appealed to the Hazara community to bury those killed in the attack in Balochistan's Mach area, calling on them to refrain from "blackmailing" him – a statement that drew ire from all sections of society.

"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," PM Imran said in a speech in Islamabad, apparently in response to the Hazaras demand that he must visit them.

"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."

Mach tragedy

Eleven miners were brutally massacred on Sunday when armed assailants entered their residential compound in the Mach coalfield area of Balochistan where they were sleeping, blindfolded and trussed them up before executing them. The militant Islamic State (IS) group, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Relatives and residents started their protest on the same day, arranging the coffins on the Western Bypass on the outskirts of Quetta and refusing to bury them in a symbolic gesture until the prime minister's visit and assurance of protection.

The protests later spread to other parts of the country, including Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi, where demonstrators blocked several important roads, disrupting traffic.

Soon after the announcement to end the protest in Quetta, similar messages were played at gatherings in other cities, with reports of sit-ins being called off in Karachi and Lahore as well.

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