Pakistani Shia End Protests; Hold Funerals For Slain 11 Miners

People chant slogans as they sit with coffins of their relatives, coal miners from the Shia Hazara minority killed in an attack | Reuters

Quetta- Hundreds of Shia Pakistanis gathered on Saturday to bury 11 coal miners from the Hazara community killed by the armed group ISIL (ISIS), ending a week of protests that sought to highlight the minority’s plight.

Protesters staged a sit-in after ISIL fighters captured and shot the miners last Sunday in Machh, an area 17km (30 miles) east of Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s troubled Balochistan province.

Shia across the country joined in the demonstrations – including blocking roads in major cities – demanding that Prime Minister Imran Khan visit the grieving community in Quetta and assure their protection.

Ethnic Hazaras make up most of the Shia population in Quetta. Balochistan is the country’s largest and poorest region, rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies.

Their Central Asian features make them easy targets for Sunni attackers who consider them heretics.

Deal reached

Authorities on Friday promised the arrest of the attackers, payment of compensation to the bereaved families and better security for the Hazara.

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 provincial government will form a joint investigation team to recommend action against those found guilty of negligence leading to the incident,” said an agreement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP news agency.

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.

On Friday, Khan appealed to the protesters not to link the burial of the coal miners to his visit to Quetta, vowing he would come afterwards. Under Islamic tradition, burials take place as quickly as possible after death.

“No premier of any country should be blackmailed like this,” Khan said in televised remarks.

Dozens of Shia rallied on Friday in the capital of Islamabad, denouncing Khan for calling the mourners blackmailers.

The prime minister’s office said on Saturday that Khan had flown to Quetta and was expected to arrive shortly.

The prime minister had already sent a group of ministers and top officials to negotiate with the Hazara community, leading the mourners to agree to a funeral.

Often criticised

Violent attacks against Shia and other religious minority groups remain a serious problem in Sunni-majority Pakistan.

Before coming to power in 2018, Khan often criticised Pakistan’s leaders for not doing more to stop attacks on the minority Hazara community, and for not rushing to Quetta to offer condolences after similar assaults.

The ISIL group abducted and then shot and killed the miners on Sunday in Balochistan.

Police video of their bodies revealed the miners had been blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs before being shot.

The ISIL affiliate promptly claimed responsibility and since then authorities have raided hideouts to arrest those who orchestrated the killings, though Khan insisted Pakistan’s neighbour India was behind the violence in Balochistan.

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