AFTER almost a week of remaining in sub-zero temperatures by the roadside with the corpses of their loved ones so cruelly slaughtered on January 3, the protestors of Shia Hazara in Quetta eventually put them to rest. And Prime Minister Imran Khan, as he had expected, only came to condol with them after Saturday’s burials had taken place.
The government has, he said, issued them written security assurances and vowed to meet their other demands. In good grace, the mourning community could do nothing but welcome him, and expect that the state will follow through this time. What has happened since the day the corpses of the Hazara coal miners were found with their throats slashed and can not be papered over or ignored as a ‘misunderstanding’ when Mr Khan visited Quetta.
First, when the mourners said they would not bury their dead until he came to see them in person, the prime minister showed an unexplainable unwillingness to go to the provincial capital. Yet there was worse to come. In a stunning show of callousness, at an event in Islamabad, Mr Khan told the oppressed group not to “blackmail” him. And he went even deeper, saying that a “band of crooks” had “also” been blackmailing him for two-and-a-half years, pointing to the opposition leaders. The Hazara men, women and children he addressed, even as he spoke, spent the sixth straight day out in the freezing cold in the middle of the coffins, each holding a picture of the young man lying inside.
The prime minister poured salt into the wounds of the Hazaras with his thoughtless remarks, for which he gave no apologies. The group has dealt with years of sectarian conflict, and while the new attack came after a lull, it was a grisly reminder that Shias are still persecuted for their religion, amid the state’s claims to have triumphed over militancy. The Hazaras are particularly fragile, with their distinctive characteristics.
Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari were condemned by some PTI leaders for ‘playing politics’ on the suffering of the group by going to directly condole with them. Many with an iota of political sense, not to mention empathy, realise that the need for the hour was absolute. Whatever it may be, Mr. Khan now has an opportunity to make good on his words. The signs of militancy are only treated by armed escorts and better-secured enclaves; they are not the antidote.
A party of just around 40 people, former Lashkar-e-Jhangvi agents now associated with the jihadist Islamic State group, is behind these attacks, following the words of the Prime Minister himself. The government must order the security forces to track down and put to justice these militant extremists, who can evidently still strike at will in Balochistan. They pose a danger to minorities around the world as long as they are free.