Amnesty International on Tuesday called on Pakistan to investigate the alleged torture and killing of more than 40 political leaders and activists in southwestern Baluchistan province, where the government has battled a nationalist insurgency for decades.
The killings allegedly took place over the past four months against a backdrop of rising political unrest and Pakistani army operations in Baluchistan, said the human rights group. The government has repeatedly used force to counter Baluch insurgents who have demanded a greater share of the region's natural resource wealth.
"The Pakistani government must act immediately to provide justice for the growing list of atrocities in Baluchistan," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director. "Baluch political leaders and activists are clearly being targeted and the government must do much more to end this alarming trend."
Among the most recent victims of the violence were two men found on Oct. 21 in Mastung district. Both received a single bullet to the head at point-blank range and showed signs of torture, said the rights group. Many other bodies have been found in the same condition.
Many of the victims' relatives and activists have blamed Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies for the killings, said Amnesty.
Government officials could not be reached for comment, but they have denied carrying out such targeted killings in the past.
"The Pakistani government must show that it can and will investigate the Pakistani military and Frontier Corps, as well as intelligence agencies, who are widely accused of playing a role in these incidents," said Zarifi.
A previously unknown militant group, Sipah-e Shuhada-e Baluchistan, has also claimed responsibility for some of the deaths, said the rights group.
Baluchistan remains Pakistan's poorest province despite the presence of vast natural resources that residents complain are mainly exploited to fill the central government's coffers. They also chafe under what they view as effective military rule.
Pakistan has launched at least five separate military operations in Baluchistan, the most recent under former President Pervez Musharraf that killed one of the province's top tribal leaders. The army pulled back to its barracks at the beginning of 2008, but federal paramilitary forces are still deployed throughout the province.
The provincial government has accused those forces and federal intelligence agencies of secretly snatching nearly a thousand people off the street and holding them for years without admitting it, a problem that residents and human rights groups say continues to occur.
Insurgents have responded with a wave of assassinations against non-Baluch residents that have killed hundreds of people, many of them doctors and teachers from other parts of Pakistan.