QUETTA, Pakistan -- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Pakistani authorities to "urgently act" to protect minority Shi'ite Muslims from rising sectarian attacks by members of the rival majority Sunnis.
In a new statement, the U.S.-based rights watchdog said at least 320 Shi'a have been killed in targeted attacks this year across Pakistan. It said the minority Hazara community has suffered more than 100 such killings in the southwestern Balochistan Province.
"Deadly attacks on Shi'ite communities across Pakistan are escalating," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, warned.
He added that the government's persistent failure to apprehend attackers or prosecute the extremist groups organizing the attacks suggests that it is indifferent to this carnage.
"Pakistan's government cannot play the role of unconcerned bystander as the Shi'ites across Pakistan are slaughtered," Adams said.
HRW said some Sunni extremist groups are known to be "allies" of the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries, such as the Frontier Corps.
In particular, HRW expressed concern over Islamabad's failure to rein in the anti-Shi'ite Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ).
The LeJ is regarded as among the most extreme Sunni groups, accused of killing hundreds of Shi'a since its emergence in the early 1990s.
HRW said LeJ has operated with "widespread impunity" despite being officially banned by Pakistani authorities in 2001.
Adams said the arrest last month of LeJ leader Malik Ishaq, who has been accused of killing around 70 people, was "an important test for Pakistan's criminal justice system."
In one of the bloodiest recent attacks targeting Shi'a, on August 16 gunmen dragged 20 Shi'ite travelers off a bus and reportedly killed them at point-blank range in northern Pakistan.
On September 1, four gunmen riding two motorbikes reportedly intercepted a bus near the Hazarganji area of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, pulled five Shi'ite vegetable sellers off the vehicle and shot them dead.
Sectarian conflict has left thousands of people dead in Pakistan since the late 1980s.
Based on reporting by AFP and RFE/RL