Divergent views over Imran’s Quetta visit stance

Published January 10, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan meets the families of the slain coal ministers in Quetta. — Photo courtesy: Prime Minister's Office
Prime Minister Imran Khan meets the families of the slain coal ministers in Quetta. — Photo courtesy: Prime Minister's Office

• Cabinet members say they urged premier to meet Hazara families without delay
• Chan says he’s ashamed; Rashid denies he asked PM to wait

ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan paid the much-demanded visit to Quetta to express solidarity with the bereaved families of the slain Hazara workers on Saturday, a tweet of one of his spokespersons Nadeem Afzal Chan hours before the visit is believed to be quite “meaningful” as it reflects divergent views within the ruling party on the premier’s stance.

The PM’s spokesperson in the tweet on Friday night stated: “Helpless and innocent bodies of slain coal miners, I am ashamed.”

As the heirs of the Mach massacre victims along with other Hazara community members had refused to bury the slain coal miners until the prime minister’s visit to Quetta along with security assurance, Mr Khan made it clear to them on the sixth day of their protest that he could not be ‘blackmailed’ and he would not visit the mourning families until the burial as all their other demands had been accepted.

When contacted over the tweet, which indicated a divide within the ranks of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on PM’s stance over the issue of Hazara community, Mr Chan said he tweeted according to the voice of his conscience.

The PM’s spokesperson said he had already advised the prime minister in the last federal cabinet meeting to immediately proceed to Quetta so that the mourners, who were staging a sit-in with the bodies in bitterly cold weather, could be consoled so that they bury their loved ones.

Mr Chan is said to be one of the strongest supporters of the idea that the prime minister should have paid a visit to Quetta “without any delay” to share the pain and grief of the families of the slain Hazara coal miners. “I was the first person who asked the prime minister vehemently to go to Quetta without any delay,” he remarked.

He told Dawn that in the cabinet meeting, when he asked the prime minister to visit the Hazara families, federal Minister Brig (retd) Ijaz Shah, who had served as interior minister in the PTI government before Sheikh Rashid replaced him last month, seconded him.

Asked whether he faced any reaction from the prime minister or any of his party colleagues, the PM’s spokesperson replied in negative and said: “No reaction”.

Mr Chan endorsed the statements of several other cabinet members that Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid had asked PM Khan not to go to Quetta for at least two to three days as sentiments were very high there.

However, Mr Rashid told Dawn that he had not advised the prime minister to stay and wait.

“In fact I was asking the prime minister from the very first day that he should meet the mourners at once,” he added.

Mr Chan claimed that his voice in the cabinet was also endorsed by Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, whereas another cabinet member requesting anonymity said he too had urged the prime minister to ‘immediately visit’ to Quetta.

A source in the PTI-led ruling coalition said soon after the federal cabinet meeting on Jan 3, some cabinet members attended the Senate proceedings and shared details of the cabinet meeting with some party men who agreed that the prime minister should have gone to Quetta without a second thought.

When retired brigadier Shah was approached, he was reluctant to comment on the matter to keep confidentiality of the proceeding of the federal cabinet.

But PTI Central Secretary for Information Ahmed Jawad said: “The prime minister as a matter of governmental procedures and conventions is advised by the cabinet members including federal Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmad on issues of national importance and the opinions expressed may vary. However the prime minister has the privilege to make his decisions. In the matter concerned, the central information secretary both in his personal as well as official capacity believes that the premier has made the most suitable decision.”

He explained: “If the burial of victims of terror incidents is conditioned with PM’s visit, there may be no end to such demands.”

Earlier on Friday, PM Khan’s remarks in reference to the protest by the Hazara families that “the prime minister cannot be blackmailed in that manner” took the social media by storm, as even some die-hard party leaders and workers expressed ‘regret’ over the situation.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2021

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