ISLAMABAD: “Security concerns” and “ego” are said to be the main hurdles in the way of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Quetta to meet the bereaved families of 11 slain coal miners of the Hazara community.
Background information obtained by Dawn from premier’s close aides and cabinet members revealed that the prime minister wanted to rush to Quetta soon after slaughtering of 11 coal miners by terrorists in the Mach area of Balochistan last Sunday, but he was advised to wait till the situation turned normal.
They claimed that the prime minister’s “blackmailing” remarks came with some reasons in the background as the government believed that innocent Hazaras had not demanded that they would bury the bodies only when the prime minister visited Quetta for consoling them, but the demand basically came from the leaders of Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) and the opposition fanned the fire to gain political mileage on the sensitive issue.
The aides said the prime minister was of the view that once he accepted the demand for visiting Quetta prior to the burials, it would become a precedent and everyone, having any grievances, would “blackmail” him in future.
The first advice not to visit Quetta came from Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed during a cabinet meeting (after meeting the mourners in Quetta). He urged the prime minister to refrain from visiting Quetta for at least two days as the sentiments of the protesters, who were staging a sit-in with the bodies, were quite high and any “unpleasant” incident could take place in the presence of the prime minister there.
“I and Fawad Chaudhry were the first two cabinet members who opposed the idea of Sheikh Rashid in the cabinet meeting and urged the prime minister to pay a visit to Quetta without any delay,” said an adviser to the prime minister on condition of anonymity.
In the whole episode when countrywide protests were being held by the Hazaras and the opposition was also “instigating” them, everyone had forgotten the real killers, he said. “In this situation they [killers] might be dancing as their purpose has been served.”
The prime minister’s remarks that “he should not be blackmailed” [by Hazaras] sparked controversy and severe backlash in the mainstream and social media with very meagre space left for the government’s media managers to defend the premier.
According to insiders, for the first time in its more than two-and-a-half-year rule, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government seemed to be very upset and on the back foot due to the prime minister’s remarks.
There was a complete blackout of the government version on the media and Information Minister Shibli Faraz’s tweet came almost seven hours (after the prime minister’s speech) at 6pm in which he tried to defend the premier. Later, other spokespersons for the prime minister appeared on different TV shows, but they remained unable to adequately defend why PM Khan had asked the Hazaras not to “blackmail” him.
Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said he could not comment on the prime minister’s remarks but believed that an agreement would soon be signed by the Hazaras and the government.
Prime minister’s spokesperson and PTI leader Kanwal Shauzab said the premier had not called the Hazaras “blackmailers”, but rather those who were instigating them (Hazaras), including the leaders of MWM.
She said security concerns were also being considered for the prime minister’s visit to the area which was already under the “grip of terrorism”. “The prime minister was also concerned about the demand for restoration of blocked ID cards and passports of those inhabitants of Hazara who are actually Afghans and got these documents illegally. So it’s not just the issue of killings, but some other sensitive issues are also involved,” she said, adding that once PM Khan went to Quetta it would become a precedent for others to “blackmail” him on any issue.
Talking to Dawn, PTI information secretary Ahmed Jawad said a number of pieces of advice given to the prime minister urged him not to visit Quetta. “The first advice came from Sheikh Rashid and then by others. Once the decision was taken, the PM had to stick to it,” he added.
He said he had met the prime minister and he was adamant about sticking to his previous decision not to visit Quetta unless the situation turned normal there.
It has been observed that there is a divide within the ruling party on the issue of killing of Hazaras and the prime minister’s stance as some diehard party leaders and workers expressed “regret” on the situation.
Prime minister’s spokesperson Nadeem Afzal Chan tweeted: “Helpless and innocent bodies of slain coal miners, I am ashamed.”
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2021