The US has long pressured nuclear-armed ally Pakistan to crack down harder on both homegrown militants groups such as the Taliban and others which are based on its soil and attack Western forces in Afghanistan.
In the north, 21 men working for a government- backed paramilitary force were executed overnight after they were kidnapped last week, said a provincial official.
Twenty Shi’ite pilgrims died and 24 were wounded, meanwhile, when a car bomb targeted their bus convoy as it headed toward the Iranian border in the southwest, a doctor said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has noted more than 320 Shias killed this year in Pakistan and said attacks were on the rise. It said the government’s failure to catch or prosecute attackers suggested it was “indifferent” to the killings.
Pakistan denies allegations it supports militant groups like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. Afghan officials say Pakistan seems more genuine than ever about promoting peace in Afghanistan. At home, it faces a variety of highly lethal militant groups that carry out suicide bombings, attack police and military facilities and launch sectarian attacks like the one on the bus in the southwest.
Witnesses said a blast targeted their three buses as they were overtaking a car 60km west of Quetta, capital of sparsely populated Baluchistan province.
Twenty people had been killed and 24 wounded, an official at Mastung district hospital said.
International attention has focused on al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
But Pakistani intelligence officials say extremist Sunni groups, lead by Lashkar-e- Jhangvi (LeJ) are emerging as a major destabilising force in a campaign designed to topple the government.
Their strategy now, the officials say, is to carry out attacks on Shi’ites to create the kind of tensions that pushed countries like Iraq to the brink of civil war.
As elections next year approach, Pakistanis will be asking what sort of progress their leaders have made in the fight against militancy and issues such as poverty and chronic power cuts.
Pakistan’s Taliban have carried out a series of recent bold attacks, as military officials point to what they say is a power struggle in the group’s leadership revolving around whether it should ease attacks on the Pakistani state and join groups fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban denies a rift exists.