Thousands of mourners gathered yesterday for the burial of miners who were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group that sparked an outcry over the lack of protection for workers.
A six-day protest by the Shia Hazara community over the killings in the country’s restive southwest was finally called off late on Friday after they reached an agreement with the Balochistan government.
Protesters numbering up to 3,000 had blocked a road on the outskirts of Quetta demanding personal assurances by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The 11 miners from the minority community were kidnapped by gunmen from a remote colliery last Sunday before being taken to nearby hills where most were shot dead, some beheaded.
Ethnic Hazaras make up most of the Shia population in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan – the country’s largest and poorest region, rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies.
Their Central Asian features make them easy targets for religious militants.
Yesterday’s funeral took place in a cemetery of the southwestern city, where more than 500 other Hazaras have also been buried in more than a decade of attacks, Reuters journalists said.
The Quetta sit-in, which continued through freezing nights, sparked protests in other cities demanding that Prime Minister Khan visit the mourners.
On Friday, Khan called that “blackmail”, drawing widespread criticism by activists, opposition parties and others on social media.
But the countrywide sit-ins began to disperse after the government and protesters reached an agreement late on Friday.
Most of the miners were impoverished seasonal migrants.
Seven were from neighbouring Afghanistan, its consulate said.
Despite Afghanistan’s desire to repatriate some of the bodies, Pakistani police said all had been buried in Quetta.
Authorities on Friday promised the arrest of the attackers, payment of compensation to the bereaved families, and better security for the Hazaras.
A senior government official told AFP that the prime minister visited Quetta yesterday and met members of the bereaved families (see report on the right).
He quoted Khan as expressing the government’s resolve to bring the culprits to justice.
The prime minister, who also chaired a high-level meeting yesterday to review law and order in Balochistan, said his government would take every possible step to protect the Hazara community.
“We are setting up a cell comprising security officials to track down militants,” he said.
A group of up to 40 IS-backed terrorists has been carrying out attacks in the country, he added.
“We have already hunted down several terrorists and our offensives against them will continue,” Khan said.
More than 4,000 people attended the last rites of the dead miners, whose bodies were laid to rest amid tight security six days after their deaths.
The community’s refusal to bury the bodies was a symbolic protest in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where according to Islamic culture people should be buried within 24 hours, before the next sunset.
Mourners chanted slogans of “down with terrorism and arrest the culprits”, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
“The provincial government will form a joint investigation team to recommend action against those found guilty of negligence leading to the incident,” said the agreement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
The deal also called for setting up a high-level commission headed by Balochistan’s home minister to investigate attacks against the Hazara community in the past 22 years.
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