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Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. - Reuters Photo.

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered on Wednesday cooperation in the investigation into Tuesday’s sectarian killings on the Karakoram Highway by gunmen in military uniform.

The army chief, who visited Skardu and forward locations at Minimerg and Domel sectors in Gilgit-Baltistan, received a briefing from local commanders on the incident and directed them to help the Gilgit-Baltistan government in maintaining security.

Later, the COAS met troops deployed in the area under inhospitable conditions. “He commended their selfless devotion and fortitude in braving the rough weather and performing duties in an area where even survival is an achievement,” a statement from the ISPR said.

Eighteen Shia passengers were shot dead by gunmen after they had been forced to disembark from buses at Harban Nullah on the Karakoram Highway. Before killing the passengers the gunmen ascertained their sectarian affiliation by checking names on their national identity cards.

The killings have led to widespread protests across the country and it is being feared that the incident could spark violence in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, meanwhile, announced formation of a joint inquiry team comprising police, army and intelligence officials.

The investigation team is expected to submit its report later this week.