Washington: The Pakistani Army is facing fresh accusations of carrying out extra-judicial killings and torture, claims which could threaten US funding for any units singled out for abuse.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had briefed US State Department and congressional officials about mounting evidence of more than 200 summary executions in Swat Valley in the past eight months of suspected Taliban sympathisers.
Pakistan`s Army denied the group`s accusations of abuse in Swat, home to about 1.3 million people and the site of a much-lauded military operation last year to take back the former Taliban stronghold.
"Swat is open to journalists and you can conduct investigative reporting there," Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in Islamabad. "Have you seen any sort of report in Pakistani newspapers?"
The Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan provided a list of 249 suspected extra-judicial killings from July 30, 2009, to March 22, 2010, saying most of the bodies were found in Swat. It said independent journalists and locals widely believed security forces were behind them.
Officials in Washington said they were taking the accusations of abuse seriously. The Obama administration has raised the matter with Islamabad, officials said.
"We have shared our concern about these allegations with senior Pakistani officials and will continue to monitor the situation closely," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates has also discussed US concerns with Pakistani military and government officials.
"While our strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan and our close partnership in combating terrorism are very important to us, we take allegations of human rights abuses seriously," said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary.
White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said "we are seeing positive forward motion from our friends" in Pakistan on the issue, but did not elaborate.
Accusations of rights abuses by the Pakistani military are not new, but the latest allegations come at a highly sensitive moment for US-Pakistan relations.
Washington, which faces frequent criticism in Pakistan following suspected CIA drone strikes on militants, wants to strengthen ties with Islamabad. It also wants to encourage more operations against Islamic extremists following the Pakistani military`s success in Swat and also in South Waziristan.
Human Rights Watch said the Army was targeting civilians who had voiced support for the Taliban when they controlled Swat or were suspected of providing them food or shelter.
"People are taken away, and sometimes they turn up a few days or weeks later having been tortured. Sometimes they disappear. Sometimes their body is dumped with a bullet in the head," Malinowski said.
He also described cases of illegal detention.
"A son has gone off to fight with the Taliban, and so another son is taken as a hostage," he said. "And the father is told: We will release son No. 2 when son No. 1 turns himself in."
He said such abuses ran against US counter-insurgency strategy and could erode support for Pakistan`s government. The Army remains popular in Swat, which endured a brutal Taliban rule that included public beheadings and floggings.