Prime Minister Imran Khan reached Quetta on Saturday where he met with the families of the slain coal miners – killed on Jan 3 in a brutal attack in Mach – and members of the Hazara community.
In a video released by his office, PM Imran can be seen interacting with the families, answering questions of the women from the community and showing affection to children.
"Don't worry, we will look after you," he was heard telling one woman who told him her family had lost all breadwinners and there was no one to provide for her sisters and ailing parents.
Another woman can be heard telling the PM that he should have become part of their grief which would have touched the hearts of millions. "I sent the chief minister, federal ministers just to look after you," PM Imran said in response.
A woman then tells the premier that "this is not the first time such an incident has happened with the Hazara community", and that many ministers had come and gone in the past with hollow reassurances but "you [PM Imran] were our sole hope".
"For one whole year, whatever we did was to protect you," the prime minister said in response, adding that this time around the government had given in writing its promises to the Hazara community.
"This time you will see that it is different," PM Imran said.
'A bigger game'
Speaking to the families after offering his condolences, the prime minister said that he had visited the community in the past and was well aware of the issues being faced by them.
"I know that people were afraid of going to your imambargahs when the 'war on terror' was at its peak in Pakistan. I came to meet you then as well."
He said that since March 2020, the intelligence agencies had informed the government that India wanted to spread anarchy in the country by killing Shia and Sunni aalims.
"I informed the federal cabinet and gave statements [...] I laud the Inter-Services Intelligence because they managed to preempt three or four plots to kill Shia or Sunni ulema.
"So I have no doubt in my mind that what happened is part of a bigger game."
Special force to protect Hazaras
PM Imran said that when the Mach incident first happened, he sent Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid to meet with the bereaved to assure them that the government will stand with them and will provide assistance.
"At the same time, I also had to send a message to the community that we will pursue those responsible for the incident," he said, adding that he was in constant contact with the intelligence agencies.
He said that there were between 35 to 40 terrorists spreading chaos in the country, who were earlier associated with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and now with the militant Islamic State group.
"We have a whole programme prepared [in this regard] and a security forces cell is being made which will look at providing you [Hazaras] with protection and pursuing those responsible [for the attack]."
Commenting on his controversial remarks urging the community to avoid "blackmailing" the prime minister, he said: "You need to understand that things are different for a prime minister. When I was a regular citizen I came to visit you. No one can guarantee that an incident doesn't happen in the country.
"So that's why I sent messages to bury the deceased and said that I will come to offer my condolences. But when you make it a condition, it will set a precedent.
"I want to make it clear though, that I was fully informed [of the situation] and was in touch with my federal ministers and security agencies. I was following this and looking at all developments," he said, adding that the entire country was also witness to the pain and suffering of the community.
He assured the Hazara community that the government and the entire nation stood with them. "This is what I came here to say. These are our kids and our sisters."
He added that his mission was to not just unite the people of the country but also those across the Muslim world. "I have tried very hard to [play a role in mending ties] between Saudi Arabia and Iran so I assure you we are going after those sowing strife and hate in the country," he said.
The PM's visit came hours after the miners were laid to rest at the city's Hazara Town cemetery in what was the culmination of a week-long protest during which the Hazara community and families of the labourers had refused to move ahead with the burials unless visited by the PM himself.
According to Agha Raza, spokesman for the Shuhada Action Committee representing the Hazara community, the prime minister reassured the community that there will be swift implementation of the demands they had put forth.
Raza said each victim's family had been paid Rs2.5 million by the government as compensation, while the prime minister reiterated that the Hazara community will not face similar incidents in the future.
Raza said the PM's suggestion that the Hazara community was "blackmailing" him was also brought up in the meeting, saying that participants "registered their protest" over the PM's words but the PM "clarified" that his words were directed towards the PDM (opposition alliance).
PM arrives in Quetta
According to Radio Pakistan, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal, provincial ministers and other high ranking officials received the premier at the airport upon his arrival. Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur accompanied the prime minister.
Shortly after arriving, the premier met with the provincial chief minister and governor. Commander Southern Command Lt. General Sarfraz Ali was also present during the meeting.
He also chaired a meeting in which the aftermath of the Mach incident and the province's law and order situation were reviewed.
According to the Prime Minister's Office, the Balochistan chief minister, governor, IG police, and chief secretary were also present during the meeting. Federal ministers Sheikh Rashid, Amin Gandapur and Ali Zaidi, along with PM's aide Zulfiqar Bukhari, also attended the meeting.
The Hazara protesters had agreed to bury the dead late on Friday night after talks between the protesters and government succeeded in ending a sit-in that lasted for days in Quetta; the community had demanded that the premier visit the bereaved and order a judicial probe into the incident.
After initially condemning the incident, the prime minister drew a lot of criticism for delaying his visit to Quetta. PML-N's Maryam Nawaz, who visited the Hazara protesters earlier this week, had said that she felt sorry to see the indifference shown by the “person sitting on the seat of power and authority”.
"The families of the victims are crying for an assurance from the government, but Imran Khan is not coming here because of his ego,” she had said.
However, the prime minister on Friday urged the community to bury those killed in the attack, calling on them to refrain from "blackmailing the premier" — a statement that drew widespread criticism from all quarters.
Speaking at a ceremony in Islamabad, he said: "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.
"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," he had said.