Imran Khan (C) and other officials listen to families of coal mine workers at a meeting in Quetta on Saturday. AP
Tariq Butt, Correspondent
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday visited Quetta after protests over the brutal killing of members of the Hazara community ended on the seventh day as the grieving families buried the dead.
Speaking to the families, the premier 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."
Imran said that when he was first informed of the killings, he sent Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid to meet with the bereaved to assure them of backing by the federal government.
"We have a whole programme prepared and a security forces cell is being made which will look at providing you (Hazaras) with protection and pursuing those responsible (for the attack)," Dawn news quoted the Prime Minister as further saying.
This happened after two federal ministers along with the Balochistan chief minister in their second visit to the Quetta protest camp assured them that the government has accepted their demands and clarified the remarks of Prime Minister Imran Khan that stirred a controversy. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid accompanied the prime minister. In Quetta, they met the relatives of the aggrieved families.
A woman mourns the death of a relative during a funeral in Quetta. AP
The announcement to end the sit-in came from the Shuhada Action Committee and Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) representatives, as federal cabinet members Ali Zaidi and Zulfi Bukhari along with Chief Minister Jam Kamal and Deputy Speaker National Assembly Qasim Suri assured the mourners that the prime minister was ready to visit them anytime and meet all their demands.
The grieving families were informed that the prime minister, interior minister and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa would visit Quetta. The decision ended the weeklong deadlock between the protesters and the government over the prime minister’s decision not to visit the mourning families until their burial.
The situation had worsened earlier in the day when Imran at an event in Islamabad remarked that the prime minister could not be “blackmailed” by the protests. He said visiting Quetta before burial would set a precedent for anyone in future to blackmail the premier.
His remarks not only drew sharp criticism from almost all religious and opposition parties but also enraged the mourners, some of whom decided to go on a hunger strike until death. Almost all mainstream religious parties, except the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, criticised Imran for his “immature” statement and termed it his stubbornness.
Rashid in an attempt to pacify the situation said that the reason for delay in Imran’s visit and relevant information could not be disclosed at the moment and hinted at security concerns.
Mourners carry the coffin of a coal mine worker during a funeral in Quetta. AP
The interior minister said that intelligence reports suggested that Indian spy agency RAW was behind the fresh wave of terrorism and there were threats for Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar from the enemy continuously conspiring to destabilise Pakistan.
“Twenty political personalities, including religious figures, were also under threat and they had been informed about it.”
Most cabinet members advised Imran to go to Quetta to share the pain and sorrow of the families of the slain miners of the Hazara community, but he ignored their advice saying that such a practice should be discouraged, according to a report.
Security concerns and ego were said to be the main hurdles in the way of Imran’s visit to Quetta to meet the bereaved families of 11 slain coal miners of the Hazara community.
His close aides and cabinet members said on condition of not being named that the prime minister wanted to rush to Quetta soon after slaughtering 11 coal miners by terrorists in the Machh area of Balochistan, but he was advised to wait till the situation turned normal.
Protesters staged a sit-in after the militant group captured and shot the miners last Sunday in Machh, an area some 30 miles east of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's trouble Baluchistan province.
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