Balochistan’s Shia Hazara community continued to protest for a fifth straight day on Thursday; refusing to bury those who were brutally killed over the weekend in the province’s Mach area.
QUETTA: The deadlock between the government and members of the Hazara community to end the latter’s sit-in following the brutal killing of coal miners in Machh continued on Wednesday, with the protesters not compromising on the demand that they would not bury the dead till Prime Minister Imran Khan meets them.
Fresh talks on the matter, held a day after Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s visit; were led by federal minister Ali Zaidi; who was sent as the government’s envoy to persuade the Hazaras to end their demonstration.
The minister met the demonstrators and assured them that the perpetrators of the Machh tragedy will be caught soon.
However, the families of the deceased refused to end the sit-in and bury the victims of the tragedy; saying they will only end the protest after the prime minister meets them.
“Nothing can happen before the prime minister’s arrival. If he cannot come today, then he can come tomorrow,” a relative of one of the slain miners said.
“Balochistan has turned into a graveyard. Where is the responsibility of the state?” asked the families of the victims.
The Hazara community are seeking the details of the conviction of the accused in the killing of the Hazaras.
“Call [PM] Imran Khan, we are sitting here in -10 °C,” said one protester.
Grave Acts of Cruelty
Federal minister Ali Zaidi condoled with families over the loss of life in the Machh incident but urged them to not subject the bodies of the coal miners to any further ‘cruelty’.
Zaidi admitted “grave acts of cruelty” had been committed against the Hazara community over a period of time.
“There is an outside hand involved in such heinous incidents,” said Zaidi; assuring them that the government had knowledge as to who the perpetrator was.
“This is a well-planned conspiracy against the country,” the minister said about the Machh incident.
He added that representatives of the government had arrived in Quetta on the instructions of the prime minister to negotiate with the protesters.
Zaidi appealed to the protesters to bury the dead and not keep the prime minister’s visit to Quetta a condition for it.
He assured protesters that PM Imran Khan will arrive in the city to meet them, but that the burial of the dead should not be prolonged any more.
However, local Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen leader Agha Raza told the minister that PM’s arrival in Quetta to meet protestors should not be called a ‘condition’.
“On the one hand, the PDM is demanding his resignation — we are calling him here as our leader,” Raza said. He added that the prime minister’s visit will not diminish his prestige but rather elevate it.
The government delegation led by Zaidi included Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari and Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri.
Members of the Hazara community have staged a continuous sit-in in Quetta in freezing temperatures to demand justice for the slain coal miners who were gunned down in Machh four days ago.
The bodies of the deceased have been kept where the community is staging its demonstration, on the Quetta-Sibi highway (Western Bypass), near the Hazara Town.
Due to the presence of the protesters, the area is completely blocked off to traffic.
A large group of women and children are also at the protest; holding photographs of their loved ones killed in the tragic incident.
“We will not end our protest until the arrest of all the assassins” chief of Balochistan Shia Conference Agha Daud had told on Tuesday.
“The latest wave of killings will spread to other cities, including Quetta; if a decisive action is not taken at this stage,” he added.
Multiple high-ranking officials have visited the protesters and tried to negotiate with them; but they have refused to end the sit-in till PM Imran Khan meets them.
Earlier, Balochistan Home Minister Mir Ziaullah Langove had visited the protesters’ camp along with other provincial ministers.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed had also visited Quetta and briefed PM Imran Khan over the protests.
Rasheed had told protestors on Monday that he is ready to accept all the demands of the Hazara, except the resignation of the Balochistan government.
Rasheed had also announced compensation amounting to Rs2.5 million for the families of each of the deceased coal miners.
Protests in support of the Hazara community have also spread to other cities, including Karachi and Gilgit.
The horrible incident
Ten colliers were killed and four others seriously injured on Sunday after armed men attacked them at a coal field in Balochistan’s Bolan district.
The coal miners were taken to nearby mountains where they were shot.
The 10 miners were kidnapped before dawn on Sunday as they slept near the remote coal mine in the southwestern mountainous Machh area — 60 kilometres southeast of Quetta city, local government official Abid Saleem said.
Security officials who did not want to be named told AFP the attackers first separated; the miners before tying their hands and feet and taking them into the hills to kill them.
Two of the miners were Afghans and their bodies have been sent to Afghanistan for burial; a local security official told AFP.
Officials on Monday clarified ten people had died in the attack, revising a previous death toll of 11, AFP reported.
The militant group Daesh has claimed the attack, according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors militant activities worldwide.