Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf today failed to convince Shia leaders to end a protest over the killing of nearly 100 members of the vulnerable community in bomb attacks in Quetta, with Shia leaders saying their dead would not be buried till their demands are met.
A protest by thousands of Hazara Shias – who have refused to bury over 80 people killed in bombings on Thursday till the army takes control of Quetta – entered its third day today as the premier flew to the capital of Balochistan province to assess the security situation.
Sources said a delegation of leaders of the Majlis-e-Wahdat Muslimeen, a leading Shia body, met the premier and reiterated its demand for the dismissal of the Balochistan Chief Minister and his government and for the army to be given control of Quetta.
The premier said he could not dismiss the Chief Minister as he was constitutionally elected. The sources quoted Ashraf as saying that the army could not be called out as the "situation was not so bad".
He asked the Shia leaders to call off their protest and bury their dead, but the request was turned down by the MWM delegation. The Shia leaders made it clear that their protest would continue till their demands are met.
"The government is only resorting to delaying tactics. It is just testing our patience," Maulana Amin Shaheedi, the deputy chief of the MWM, told PTI. Sources said MWM chief Allama Nasir Abbas refused to meet the premier as a mark of protest over the government’s failure to stop attacks on Shias.
The sources further dismissed the impression being given by government officials that talks were continuing with Shia leaders to end the stalemate in Quetta.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ashraf chaired a meeting to review the law and order situation in Balochistan. Senior civil and security officials, including Governor Zulfiqar Magsi, briefed the premier on the situation in the wake of the bomb attacks on Thursday.
The meeting discussed measures to curb sectarian killings and decided to take "concrete steps to restore law and order", state-run Radio Pakistan reported without giving details.
TV news channels reported that the premier had spoken to Law Minister Farooq Naek on phone to discuss legal options open to the government. Reports from Quetta said several people who were protesting in the open with the bodies of their dead since Friday had developed health problems, including cold and pneumonia.
Many Hazara Shias sat near the bodies wrapped in shrouds with photos of the dead.
A delegation led by federal Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Shah met Shia leaders yesterday but was unable to convince them to end their protest. There was speculation in Islamabad that the premier decided to rush to Balochistan after Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan announced he would join the protestors in Quetta as a mark of solidarity.
Khan and a delegation of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders visited the site of the protest at Alamdar Road, a Shia-dominated neighbourhood, and addressed the gathering.
A strike was observed in Quetta on the call of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement asked people across Pakistan to observe the day as "Youm-e-sog" (day of mourning). Protests by civil society and Shia groups also continued in towns and cities across Pakistan, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Hyderabad, Jacobabad, Lahore, Multan, Gujranwala, Chakwal, Peshawar, Gilgit and Parachinar.
At most place, the protestors said they would remain on the roads till the dead are buried in Quetta.
In Karachi, a large number of Shias and civil society activists gathered outside Bilawal House in Clifton, the residence of President Asif Ali Zardari. They carried posters that read "All we demand is peace" and "Why Shia killing is not stopped".
In Lahore, a sizeable number of Shias joined a sit-in that began outside the Governor's House yesterday. They demanded the dismissal of the Balochistan government as it had failed to protect the lives of minorities.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan joined the protesters yesterday and expressed solidarity with the Hazara Shias. He demanded the imposition of Governor's Rule in Balochistan.
"The people of the Hazara community are being killed in Quetta's streets and after being dragged out of buses," he said. The federal and Balochistan governments had failed to deliver and should resign immediately, he said.