TUCKED between the districts of Quetta and Sibi, the Mach valley is flanked by mammoth coal-laden mountains in the Bolan district, stretched over a vast area. Since the time of the British, who found mines in Mach and elsewhere in Balochistan, coal has been mined here. And a lot of the abundance of coal is still buried under the mountains.
Mach Town is bifurcated by the famous Bolan River. There is hardly a plain place inside the town other than the main tiny bazaar, where coal miners purchase edibles and other products. Mining is carried out deep down the valleys, even along the banks of the Mach Canal. Excessive mining in areas of Mach has created fractures and left miners vulnerable to accidents.
I asked a group of coal miners about Hazara coal miners in September 2017, when I first visited Mach to report on a storey about the insecurity of coal miners after an accident in a coal mine. I was told that since the British period, the Hazaras coal miners have been employed in the mines. They made up a bigger chunk of the labour force at the time.
Non-Hazara coal miners seemed jealous when I asked the issue. “That’s another kind of breed,” said an older coal miner over a cup of black tea. They work in double shifts, day and night, due to fear of sectarianism, and rarely come out of the coal mines because of the fear of being known as Hazara and of welcoming sectarianism.
While the number of Hazara coal miners in Balochistan has been diminished by sectarian violence in one and a half decades, there are still a large number of them in Mach and other coal mines in the province who are forced to work as coal miners because of economic crashes. In Quetta, their economic activity has declined to include their ghetto communities in the eastern and western parts of the city: Marriabad and Hazara Area.
Pall of gloom hangs over Hazara Town after arrival of coal miners’ bodies from Mach
On Fridays, coal miners take a day off and those from the Hazara community then go to Quetta on Thursdays and return to work on Saturdays, says Iqbal Yousafzai, a coal miners’ union leader. The disaster struck on Sunday night after their return from Quetta,” says Mr Yousafzai.” “Militants tied their hands on their backs and one by one slaughtered them.”
In the streets of Hazara City, where the slain Hazaras came from, there is an eerie silence on Sunday. There is a sombre atmosphere on the roads leading to Wali Asar Imambargah and shops are closed in different areas. There are hundreds of people standing on the road, inside the courtyard and on the Imambargah’s stairs and roof.
As the sun hides behind the Quetta valley mountains, the night continues to fall with a chilly coldness. Suddenly, in the background, Edhi and Chhipa ambulances, led by Hazara volunteers in their cars, begin wailing. The wailing gets louder steadily and inevitably, and the ambulances, one by one, begin to appear on Wali Asar Imam-bargah lane, with the relatives sitting with their loved ones slain.
In the Hazargi language, one of the mourners begins to shout, which is accompanied by religious slogans raised by others as the bodies are carried into the Imambargah. It’s a black chapter in Pakistan’s history,” exclaims Syed Dawood Agha, leader of the Balochistan chapter of the Shia Conference.” “After being identified as Hazara, eleven innocent coal miners were butchered. That is actually a crime of theirs.
Sadiq and Nazeer, the families of two slain coalminers, came from Mach in ambulances, where they went with other volunteers in the morning after hearing the news of the disaster. They had been protesting on the highway at Mach along with the bodies for hours.
With their community, with their heads down beside the coffins, the majority of the family weep. A man sitting screams: “There are 10 family coffins, not individuals.” They went to a coal mine to make their families a living. Instead, in the area, their bodies are back.
They were told, according to Mr. Agha, by an electrician boy who had managed to escape from being killed by the militants. Mr Agha says, “He called us to give us the tragic news.” “We sent a volunteer team to Mach. Since protesting peacefully there, they returned with their brothers’ coffins.
The remains of the slain miners are eventually carried to their homes, and the Imambargah continues to empty. Now it’s time to present their faces to their parents and their mothers, to remind them of Karbala,” says one of the mourners, accompanying the victim’s body to the house.”
In the evening, the 11 coal miners came out of their mines to take a ‘breath’ of sun-dried bricks in their residential quarters. And this is how they paid the price of breathing in an open room at the top of a mountain full of gas.