THE targeted killings of settlers, mostly from Punjab and Sindh, that have been taking place in Balochistan for some years past, have caused shock and dismay to the nation and suffering to the families left behind. Another effect of these murders has, understandably, been the accelerating trend among the remaining settlers to flee the province, lest they should fall victim to this madness next. That even Baloch leaders, who were pro-Pakistan, have not been spared by the murderers, as maintained by Interior Minister Rehman Malik on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, pinpoints to the fact that behind these acts of ruthlessness must be the hand of anti-state forces, local or foreign or both. He alleged that not only four local private armies were involved but also there were hidden hands which wanted to destabilise the country. He specifically named the Indians trying to fish in troubled waters. The Minister asserted that no compromise would be made with these elements unless they give up their separatist agenda and also claimed to have laid on the table the evidence of New Delhis involvement when he had talks with his Indian counterpart. The matter should not be left at that, but must be vigorously pursued with India as well as with the international community. Despite the unsubstantiated charges against Pakistan, the Indians keep raising the Mumbai incidents on every conceivable occasion. Mr Malik made a distressing revelation of the exodus of as many as 100,000 of the settlers from Balochistan. It is quite obvious that both those who lost their lives and those who felt compelled to find refuge elsewhere were Pakistanis who must have taken up residence in the province with the purpose of bettering their own prospects in life but would, at the same time, be making their bit of contribution to the good of the province or were there on official duty. Many among them were educationists and other professionals, who are relatively more in short supply in Balochistan than in other parts of the country and were thus undoubtedly performing a function fundamental to the progress and prosperity of the province. Their loss is the loss of the local people also. Yet, a really sinister aspect that is damaging to the national cause is the message that these killings and exodus convey. And that is the message of ethnic cleansing. The anti-national forces must be tackled, on the one hand, by removing the sense of deprivation of the people of Balochistan and, on the other, confronting, with a firm hand, local and outside elements involved in exploiting their grievances to serve their ends.