A series of sectarian massacres on one of Pakistan's most important roads has forced the government to lay on military flights for Shias travelling to and from the country's capital.
The decision to allocate C-130 Hercules transport planes for the use of civilians travelling between Islamabad and the north-eastern provincial capital of Gilgit follows the killing on Thursday of 20 Shias.
In the third such incident on the road in six months, the victims were pulled off a bus some 100 miles north of Islamabad by armed men, lined up and shot.
Local officials said up to a dozen people wearing army uniforms had stopped the bus before mounting their attack.
"After checking their papers, they opened fire and at least 20 people are reported to have been killed," said Khalid Omarzai, administration chief of Mansehra district.
Pakistan is struggling to deal with rising sectarian violence and extremist Sunni groups who do not regard members of the Shia sect as true Muslims.
The prime minister's office said the flights were a temporary measure as the country heads towards the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
The road is critical for connecting Gilgit-Baltistan — the province borders China — with the rest of the country. gns