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Editorial: After waiting, in vain, for the arrival of Prime Minister Imran Khan grieving families of the 11 Hazara coalminers brutally massacred in Mach and other members of the Hazara community finally agreed on the seventh day to bury the dead following assurances of acceptance of their demands by Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and two federal cabinet members, Ali Zaidi and Zulfi Bukhari. But the situation could not have been mishandled more. Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed had visited Quetta soon after the protest sit-in began followed by Zaidi and Bukhari to assure the distraught Hazara people of government support. But they had refused to bury the dead until the PM came while the PM said he would come only after the burial. Press reports, however, say he had wanted to rush to Quetta after he learned about the appalling tragedy but was advised that since feelings were running high he should wait till emotions cooled down a bit. From then on, it seemed to have become a test of wills.

A bad situation was made worse when while speaking at an unrelated event in Islamabad, Imran Khan came up with the imprudent remarks that ”we have accepted all their demands, [except] one that the dead will be buried when the premier visits, I have sent them a message that … you don’t blackmail the prime minister of any country like this,” adding that if he visited Quetta before the burial, it would set a precedent and then he might be “blackmailed” by anyone in future. To say the least it was highly inconsiderate of the PM to accuse the affectees of such an outrageous crime of blackmail. Or that it would set a precedent for others in such situations to seek his presence. First of all, it is for his government to ensure no such horror takes place anywhere in this country. Second and more importantly, what had happened in Mach was not an isolated incident of terrorism; during the last two decades or so, hundreds of them have been killed in targeted violence. In a desperate plea for protection, after two major terrorist attacks they had similarly refused to bury the victims till the then premier gave personal assurances of protection. In opposition at the time, Khan had visited their protest sit-ins to express solidarity with them. Subsequent to the 2013 killing of at least 180 Hazara people in two suicide bombings in Quetta, he had tweeted “tragic news from Quetta. Condemn Laskkar-e-Jhangvi for its genocidal campaign against Shias, especially Hazaras. Where is the state?” Now that the Hazaras and many others are asking the same question, the answer is not the one expected of the prime minister who generally shows sensitivity on issues affecting vulnerable sections of society.

Apparently, one initial bad decision led to other bad decisions. The situation could have been easily resolved had the Khan not paid heed to his advisers and visited the protesters in Quetta right at the beginning of their sit-in. Instead one mistake after another ended up compounding the issue. Now that PM has met the families of slain coal-miners he now needs to take effectual measures to guarantee long-term peace and security for the Hazara people in particular.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021