ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday told relatives of 11 miners from the Shia Hazara community killed by militants on Sunday that they should not make burying their loved ones conditional on the prime minister visiting Quetta, saying no prime minister should be “blackmailed” in this manner.
Thousands of protesters from the Shia Hazara minority community in Balochistan continued a sit-in on Friday, saying they would not bury their relatives until Khan visited the province.
Gunmen abducted a group of coal miners and killed 11 on 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 Shias 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. They demand that they will call off their sit-in only when PM Khan visits Quetta to meet protesters.
“One of their demands is that the prime minister come [to Quetta] and then we will bury the bodies,” Khan said while addressing a ceremony in Islamabad. “I have sent them a message that when all your demands have been met, then this demand, that we won’t bury [the dead] until the prime minister comes … you don’t blackmail the prime minister of any country like this … then everyone will start blackmailing.”
He added: “I have told them that the moment you bury the dead, I will come to Quetta and meet the mourners. If you bury them today, I will come to Quetta today. This government is fully with you.”
A member of Khan’s cabinet, who declined to be named, said the PM’s plans to travel to Quetta were “not yet finalized.”
Bilalwal Bhutto-Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, vice president of the Pakistan Muslim-League Nawaz, visited Quetta to meet with protesters on Thursday. The Pakistani interior minister and two cabinet members have also flown to Quetta this week to negotiate with protesters on the government’s behalf.
On Wednesday, Khan urged relatives of the slain miners to end their protest and bury their loved ones, saying he would visit the mourners for condolences “soon.”
“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
But the Majlis-e-Wihdatul Muslimeen, a Shia political group that is heading the protests, said the sit-in would be called off only when the PM came to Quetta.
Quetta is home to roughly 600,000 Hazara Shias, largely confined to two fortified enclaves.
On Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the killing of the 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.