Of the myriad problems Pakistan faces, one is a bubbling separatist movement in the vast, mineral-rich region of Balochistan, on the Iranian border. Insurgents in the southwestern province are waging a battle for greater political autonomy.
According to a devastating report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Pakistani authorities are dealing with the situation with extreme brutality.
HRW claims that Pakistani security forces are routinely detaining, torturing and murdering hundreds of political activists in Balochistan in what some observers describe as a “dirty war.”
"Pakistan's security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants 'disappear' and in many cases are executed," said HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams.
"The national government has done little to end the carnage in Balochistan, calling into question its willingness or ability to control the military and intelligence agencies."
Since 2005, hundreds of Baloch activists have suffered “enforced disappearances” and many more have been detained without being charged of any crime.
HRW puts the blame squarely on Pakistan’s much-feared security network.
"Pakistani security services are brazenly disappearing, torturing, and often killing people because of suspected ties to the Baloch nationalist movement," Adams said.
"This is not counterinsurgency - it is barbarism and it needs to end now."
However, officials in Islamabad and Balochistan repeatedly deny such atrocities are occurring and label these accusations as “propaganda” by separatists.
Some senior Pakistani officials reportedly believe Baloch separatists are actively supported and financed by India.
Moreover, Balochistan, which also borders Afghanistan, is believed by US officials to be the new home base of the Afghan Taliban (also denied by Pakistani authorities).
Huge in size but sparsely populated, Balochistan reportedly possess cast untapped deposits of oil, gas, copper and gold – making it crucial for Pakistan to keep.