Human rights activists are pleading with the Pakistani government to take steps to end the killings of minority Shia Muslims in the Sunni-dominated country following a wave of murders by extremist groups.

“Deadly attacks on Shia communities across Pakistan are escalating,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“The [Pakistani] government’s persistent failure to apprehend attackers or prosecute… suggests that it is indifferent to this carnage.”

The carnage against Shias has surged in recent years – at least 320 people have been killed in sectarian violence in Pakistan thus far this year alone, with one-third of the murders taking place in Balochistan province, where the Hazara ethnic group is concentrated.

On the first day of September in two different attacks, a total of eight Hazara were shot to death by gunmen in the city of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. In the prior month, at least 26 Shia were murdered in the country, including a particularly horrific incident in the Northwest Frontier province in which gunmen forces bus passengers to provide identification, leading to the immediate execution of 22 Shias. The Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for that particular atrocity.

Aside from the Taliban, HRW attributed many other targeted killings of Shias to the outlawed Lashkar-e Jhangvi Sunni militant group “which have operated with widespread impunity across Pakistan while law enforcement officials have effectively turned a blind eye on attacks against Shia communities.”

HRW noted, however, that a small measure of progress may have occurred with the August 31 arrest of Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar-e Jhangvi, on charges of inciting violence against Shias.

“The arrest of Malik Ishaq, who has been implicated in dozens of killings, is an important test for Pakistan’s criminal justice system,” Adams said. “Sectarian violence won’t end until those responsible are brought to trial and justice.”

However, given how Ishaq has been repeatedly arrested and subsequently released by authorities over the years, there are suspicions that the Sunni militants are in collusion with government intelligence networks or possibly with the police and military officials.

“Pakistan’s government cannot play the role of unconcerned bystander as the Shia across Pakistan are slaughtered,” Adams added.

“Pakistan’s political leaders, law enforcement agencies, judiciary, and military need to take this as seriously as they take other security threats to the state.”

Overall, thousands of people have died in sectarian violence in Pakistan over the past two decades. However, Sunnis enjoy a distinct advantage given that they represent about 70 percent of the population.