The heinous killings of 20 labourers, who belonged to Sindh and Punjab, in the Turbat district of Balochistan on Saturday is yet another reminder of the grim situation in the province. Balochistan Liberation Front, a banned separatist militant group, claimed responsibility for the ethnic killings. Such groups, who claim to be fighting for the rights of Baloch people and independent Balochistan, cannot possibly do greater damage to their alleged cause. By murdering poor labourers, who take no part in devising the military establishment’s policy towards the province and can barely make ends meet, such extremist elements undermine the efforts of dedicated rights and political activists – Baloch and non-Baloch – struggling for peace and justice in Balochistan.

Those, who campaign for justice and do not shy away from raising their voice against the military establishment’s highhandedness in Balochistan, must offer an equally unequivocal condemnation of ethnic killings in Turbat carried out by separatist groups. No cause, no grievance and no state or military policies justifies ethnic attacks on innocent civilians. It is indeed possible to offer meaningful resistance to misguided policies of the military establishment without excusing or justifying activities of BLF and other militant separatist groups. Loud state propaganda could never destroy their credibility like their own silence does.

As things stand today, Balochistan’s legitimate grievances remain unaddressed. That is partially because of the lack of interest and apathy afflicting the rest of the country. Most do not even understand the nature of problems in the province they have never visited and do not feel the need to. Such incidents will only contribute to Balochistan’s isolation and reinforce suspicions and paranoia surrounding the plight of the Baloch people. Issues like missing persons, lack of civilian powers and military excesses, which ought to be discussed and debated throughout Pakistan, remain stuck on the backseat owing to both state censorship and terrorist activities carried out by entities such as BLF.

The solution to Balochistan’s problems will not come from bullets regardless of who is pulling the trigger. If the state wishes to effectively counter militant separatists, it is advised to empower politicians, activists and citizens remain unarmed despite all that they face. Let them appear on television screens and let people listen to what they have to say. The unwarranted insecurity and paranoia is not doing anyone any good. Pakistan can and will survive harsh statements and unpleasing remarks, but what it cannot afford is perpetual silence.