ISLAMABAD: Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan on Wednesday urged relatives of 11 Hazara Shia miners killed in the southwestern Balochistan province on Sunday to end their protest and bury their loved ones, saying he would visit the mourners for condolences “soon.”
Thousands of protesters in Balochistan continued a sit-in on Wednesday, saying they would not bury their dead relatives until Khan visited the province and ensured justice.
Gunmen abducted a group of minority Hazara Shia coal miners and killed 11 early Sunday, Pakistani officials said. The Daesh group later claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on its website. The militant group has repeatedly targeted Pakistan’s minority Shiites in recent years.
Families of the victims placed the dead bodies on a road connecting Quetta with Sukkar on Sunday, but later moved them to the provincial capital where they have been sitting with the coffins on a major highway since.
“I share your pain & have come to you before also to stand with you in your time of suffering,” the PM tweeted, addressing relatives of the deceased. “I will come again very soon to offer prayers and condole with all the families personally. I will never betray my people’s trust. Please bury your loved ones so their souls find peace.”
I want to reassure the Hazara families who lost their loved ones in a brutal terrorist attack in Machh that I am cogniscant of their suffering & their demands. We are taking steps to prevent such attacks in the future & know our neighbour is instigating this sectarian terrorism.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 6, 2021
Protests against the killings also continued in Quetta, Lahore, Karachi, Multan and other cities on Wednesday, Pakistani media reported, while the government continued talks to convince angry protesters to call off demonstrations. Interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, who arrived in Quetta on Monday, met a delegation of the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), which is leading the sit-in in the provincial capital.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Rasheed said that he had asked the MWM to form a five-to-seven-member committee to meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad: “I will arrange the meeting within two-three days,” he said.
The interior minister announced compensation of Rs2.5 million to the heirs of each victim, and assured the families of justice.
Federal Ministers Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari and Ali Zaidi also arrived in Quetta on Tuesday night to hold talks with protest organizers. The negotiations are ongoing.
Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province is plagued by threats from several armed groups, including sectarian militant outfits who attack minorities, and separatist groups seeking independence for the province.
Quetta is home to roughly 600,000 Hazara Shias, largely confined to two fortified enclaves, and checkpoints manned by paramilitary personnel.
“The people of Hazara community are great, who despite such terrorist attacks are loyal to the country,” the interior minister told reporters.
On Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the killing of 11 miners, saying seven of them were Afghan citizens.
An official with the Levies Force, which serves as police and paramilitary in the area, told local media the gun attack took place near the remote Machh coal field, about 48 km east of the provincial capital Quetta.
Agha Syed Muhammad Raza, a senior leader of the Majlis-e-Wihdatul Muslimeen, said the victims had been blindfolded, with their arms and legs tied up, and were killed with knives.
“We have become tired of picking up the bodies of our people,” Syed Agha Raza, a Hazara political leader, told Reuters.
Masooma Yaqoob Ali said her elder brother along with four other relatives was among those killed.
“Now we have no male member [of our family] to take coffins of our brother and other relatives to the graveyard for burial,” she said, shedding tears as she spoke.