QUETTA: Calls for handing over the Balochistan capital to the army and protests and sit-ins against the Quetta carnage spread to the other parts of the country on Saturday as the Quetta Yakjehti Council (QYC) decided to continue its two-day long sit-in, along with the 86 coffins of bombing victims, at Alamdar Road after the failure of negotiations with the government.
The one-hour-long talks were held between Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah and members of the QYC at the Imambargah Punjabi at Alamdar Road where hundreds of people belonging to the Shia Hazara community are staging a sit-in against the killing of their near and dear ones.
Around 2,000 people spent Friday night keeping vigil at the site of the bombings spreading plastic sheets over the shrouded bodies to keep the rain off them.
By Saturday, the number had swelled to around 5,000.
As the sky darkened, protesters wrapped themselves up in heavy coats and shawls and burned small coal fires to keep warm. Many held candles and some wept next to the coffins of their relatives.
The governor and federal minister reached the Imambargah along with three provincial ministers — Ali Madad Jatak, Tahir Mehmood Khan and Maulvi Muhammad Sarwar – and held negotiations with the QYC leaders, including Qayyum Changezi, trying to persuade them to end their sit-in with the coffins of the dead.
During the negotiations, the federal minister assured the QYC leaders that he would convey the anguish of the Hazara people to the prime minister, but they should end their protest and bury the dead. He also sought 24 hours from the Hazara elders to address their reservations.
But the QYC refused to end their protest asserting that their protest would continue until there is some outcome to their protest.Their demand is to hand over Quetta to the army and dissolve the provincial government, which they claim has failed to deliver and protect the life and property of the masses, particularly of the Hazara people in Balochistan.
On the other hand, the families of the deceased have also refused to bury their dead and vowed to continue their sit-in in the cold weather until the army is handed over Quetta for security. The protestors said that they would not leave until the authorities agree to put the security and administration of the city under army control.
The Balochistan government is oblivious to the gravity of the situation as its machinery had failed, said Raza Hazara, one of the protestors, while talking to the media
Talking to the media after the talks, Syed Khursheed Shah said that the Frontier Corps has been given powers of the police for a targeted operation against terrorists. Without the consent of the chief minister, governor’s rule cannot be enforced in the province, he said. He said governor’s rule can be imposed according to the Constitution in any province.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashra on Saturday afternoon asked Balochistan Chief Minister Muhammad Aslam Raisani to immediately return from abroad. Raisani is reportedly in London after visiting Dubai. Despite the passage of two days, the chief minister showed no interest in flying back and at least consoling the bereaved families.
In a separate protest, the office-bearers and activists of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), led by its chairman Abdul Khaliq Hazara, gathered outside the office of the inspector general of police, Balochistan, and started a three-day hunger strike against Thursday’s bomb explosions, target killings and lawlessness in Quetta.
“We want an immediate takeover of Quetta by the army, as the provincial government is incapable,” Khaliq Hazara said. He added that after the three-day hunger strike they would decide their future course of action.
Meanwhile, the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) and Imamia Students Organisation (ISO) and other organisations held protest demonstrations throughout the country. In Rawalpindi, the Express Highway was blocked by the protesters. A sit-in was staged in front of the Governor House in Lahore. In Karachi, a sit-in was staged at Numaish Chowrangi. Protest demonstrations were also held in Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nosheroferoze, Khairpur, Chiniot and other cities. All the participants demanded the handing over of Quetta to the army so that the culprits of the bombings are brought to book.
Meanwhile, talking to the media in Lahore, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has demanded imposition of governor’s rule in the province.
Imran also announced he would joine the sit-in staged by the Hazara community members and said he would also participate in it.
Imran Khan said the killing of Hazara people in Quetta was a matter of grave concern and said demands of the community members were justified and the responsibility of protecting lives of citizens was on the government’s which should either deliver or quit.
Later, Imran Khan also attended the sit-in staged by the MWM outside the Governor’s House Lahore.
Meanwhile, Tehreek-e-Istaqlal President Rehmat Khan Wardag also voiced serious concern over the killings in Balochistan. He demanded the deployment of the army in Quetta and Karachi for at least six months.
Meanwhile, members of civil society and right activists staged a sit-in in front of Super Market in Islamabad.
About 300 people from different walks of life, including students, children and housewives, were present on the occasion.
Dr Farzana Bari, rights activist told The News that they will continue their protest till the government and the authorities concerned did not ensure security to the families of the martyred people and make proper arrangements for their burial.
Parliamentarian Bushra Gohar from the Awami National Party (ANP) was the only prominent politician attending the protest in Islamabad where the protesters held candles and placards demanding an end to attacks on the Shia community.
She said there were several reasons why officials had been slow to respond: support for militants, fear or indifference. “It could be pure callousness,” she said. “Many political parties also support these groups. They are proxies.”
The Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) also has given a strike call for today (Sunday) against the bombings.
Meanwhile, in a press release, Quaid-e-Millat Jafariya Agha Syed Hamid Ali Shah Moosavi said that ignorance and terrorism are ruling Pakistan instead of democracy, and the Balochistan government should resign for its failure in providing protection to the people.
He said the government should not force them to take any step and their patience and forbearance should not be taken as their weakness. He said the demands of the bereaved families of the Alamdar Road incidents should be fulfilled, and Quetta city should be handed over to the army, and a targeted operation should be carried out against banned terrorist organisations.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights Chairman Riaz Fatyana expressed his concern over the sit-in by the families of the terrorism victims, including children and women, in extremely cold weather and rain in the provincial capital of Balochistan.
On the inaction of the rulers on the string of massacres, he demanded of the chief minister and his government to resign and also called for the removal of the top police officials.