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The killing fields of Pakistan

Published Aug 26, 2011 10:14am


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The bloodbath in Karachi continues. The death toll in the last week alone has reached over 100. A glance at the online tally of dead bodies in Karachi leaves not much room for hope in Pakistan’s largest city. The citizens appear helpless, the government looks impotent, and the future looks grimmer by the day.

While the resurgence of violence in Karachi is a recent phenomenon, the rest of Pakistan had been engulfed in senseless violence since 2003. No fewer than 36,000 Pakistanis have died in violent deaths in the past eight years, making Pakistan the hotbed of religious, political, and ethnic violence.

Whereas 189 fell victim to violent death in 2003, the number of violent deaths swelled to 11,704 during 2009. Though the number of deaths dropped significantly in 2010, it appears that violence is resurging again in 2011.

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, (

Not all victims of the senseless violence are civilians or the security force personnel. In fact terrorists and insurgents constitute the largest group of those who died a violent death in Pakistan. Since 2003, 21,680 terrorists have been reportedly killed in Pakistan. Surprisingly, Pakistan is no safer today even after such a massive death toll has been exalted on the perpetrators of violence.

Many in Pakistan and abroad see these numbers with suspicion. First, the very number (21,680) appears grossly exaggerated. Even if the proclaimed number of terrorists killed is around 22,000, one cannot ascertain how many of those who were labelled as terrorists were in fact collateral damage, i.e., innocent civilians ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The recent claims by the US authorities that no civilian has died in recent drone attacks in Pakistan is one such example of an engineered narrative of war that tries to paint death and destruction in a clinically humane way by portraying all victims as murderous terrorists. Admitting death of bystanders, school children, and women would present an uglier, yet a true and perhaps unacceptable picture of war.

The policy to paint all dead as terrorists inflates the number of terrorist deaths and underreports the death of civilians. Even with the deflated stats, almost 11,200 civilians and 3,840 security personnel have died in Pakistan since 2003. For a nation that is not in a state of war with a foreign power, such a large number of violent deaths are indicative of a civil war.

While Pakistan is not the only country facing domestic discord and extreme violence, it has though evolved into one of the most violent places in the world. A comparison with other neighbouring states in South Asia suggests that violent deaths in Pakistan now account for 79 per cent of all violent deaths in the region. In 2005 alone, violence in Pakistan accounted for merely 10 per cent of the violent deaths in South Asia.

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, (

As the violence escalated in Pakistan in the recent past, the number of civilians and security force personnel who lost their lives to extremist violence declined relative to terrorist deaths. In 2003, for instance, 6.6 civilians and security force personnel died in extremist violence for each dead terrorist. This ratio fell below 1 for 2008, 2009, and 2010 as a result of military operations in FATA and Khyber Pukhtoonwa against militants. However, the spike in civilian deaths in 2011 has reversed the trend suggesting more dead civilians and security personnel than the militants

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, (

The last few years of violence in Pakistan is similar to what had transpired in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government in 2009 responded with all its might to tackle Tamil Tigers who have been orchestrating a militant separatist campaign.  In 2009 alone, 11,000 civilians and 1,300 security force personnel lost their lives due to violence. In the end, the Sri Lankan government was able to destroy the Tamil Tigers and kill their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. While the Sri Lankan example of successfully tackling the extremists sounds optimistic, the militancy in Pakistan is much more complicated and multifaceted to be dealt decisively in the short term.

*This is the first half of a three-part article.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.  He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (46) Closed

Mohdudul Huq Aug 26, 2011 06:31pm
Muslims are killing Muslims and other people enjoying the drama.
shehre khuda Aug 26, 2011 08:56pm
Please do not defame our beloved city more in your safe neighborhood. Your research is based on the numbers provided by unreliable organizations.
Shahzad Kazi Aug 26, 2011 09:26pm
I believe that we as a nation have failed. We support the same old crooked politicians and give refuge to criminals. Even if the police were honest and diligent, they would still fail.
shafi Aug 26, 2011 10:16pm
While the number of military and civilian deaths can be verified, the number of terrorist deaths had never been verified. No dead bodies or the terrorists have ever been shown anywhere.
qamber Aug 26, 2011 10:33pm
Mashallah a very decent article sir, thanks for highlighting the situation those confined to home dont know much please keep up the good work take care God Bless.
Ramachander nanduri Aug 26, 2011 11:47pm
The statistics are frightening a growth of voilent gun crimes shows how easy it is to obtain a Gun instead of cup of chai to make freinds.
Razi Aug 26, 2011 11:59pm
I gave up and immigrated from Pakistan. Killings, bombings, suicide bombers. decapitations, rape, floods. When is this going to end. I get so depressed. I don't want to read any news from Pakistan.
Shakeel GHOURI Aug 27, 2011 12:09am
The number of death toll in pakistan's violence since 2003 is really unbelievable and heart rending. Writer has given a good information of what is happening in Pakistan, but, is it sufficient to put something into action to control the situation and restore normalcy of country? We have been reading and writing such issues since long time but this process did never prove it self as a problem solving approach for such issues. I don't think so that the proverb: "Pen is mightier than sword" can be applied on our senseless nation. We have given up the glorious teachings of Islam, and now we are no more in our reality: that was based on peace and purity. since, the situation is grave and intricate; we all should pray for our country. We are at the edge of disaster. Allah may save us. AMEEN I reluctant that militancy in pakistan, in comparison with sri lanka or any other country with same violence, is more complicated to be dealt decisively in the short term. It just requires a will of our rulers. nothing is constant in this world except change and we are waiting of change for betterment.
haleem Aug 27, 2011 07:13am
As you mentioned the peace was prevailed in Sri lanka after the army killed the leader. All killing in Karachi is done by the political parties. Only peace will prevail in Karachi if public can kill these evil politician. The people of Karachi have to wake up and fight against these evil forces.
Azhar Khalid Aug 27, 2011 11:13am
There is another aspect of looking at the data and that is influence of shift in Urban population from Tribal area s. Do you know if there is any independent data collection/tracking effort within Pakistan?
Tahir M Aug 27, 2011 03:27pm
That's nice. That means I can take a stroll down Gulshan Iqbal or Orangi Town with my wife without the fear of being mowed down. So what you are telling us is it's all nice and quiet in Karachi and what we are hearing about is all western propaganda or to put it mildly in Rehman Malik's recent explanation it's all due to irate wives and girlfriends killing their men and nothing major really only domestic family related problems. Like Rehman Malik, do not hide your head in the sand like an ostrich. Let's face up to reality.
rk singh Aug 27, 2011 03:27pm
Dear Mr.Haider, Good article. Eye-opener to people who claim that thousands of Kashmiris are getting killed everyday in Kashmir. Your statics prove that 80% violent deaths from south asia are from Pakistan. Maybe you should have shown the number of deaths country wise too. India would be at third or fourth behind Pakistan and srilanka. India being 6 times bigger than Pakistan, you can imagine how peaceful our country is.
Nadeem Aug 27, 2011 05:27pm
As a decent human,be it of any religious,ethnic,or racial denomination,would not enjoy the "drama" of these senseless killings. The drama watchers are the civilians of Pakistan who have decided to turn a blindeye and stay mute to everything happening around them.
Syed Ali Aug 27, 2011 06:41pm
I fully agree with Haleem that peace will prevail if all these political leader are washed out from our society. These leaders are a menace for the society. The people of Pakistan should wake up now and get rid of these so called patriots amongst them. Till they remain here the conditon is not going to change. Now is the time of revolution, revolution which only target these big shots.
roquefort Aug 27, 2011 07:22pm
It's better to be alive than to be a dead hero. There is nothing one can do for or against someone who is ready to kill n die
Suhail karim Aug 28, 2011 01:57am
It is true that all the politicians and the leaders need to be gotten rid off. But who will do it in a country of living deads. If we were sleeping we would have woken up long ago. but we are dead and the dead do not rise up.
Ali Aug 28, 2011 02:03am
I understand more than 35000 soldiers have died. The author should also include soldiers killed each years in the analysis to reach a fair comparison. Also, author should use sampling techniques in order to use the right number of terrorists killed each year, because author is admitting the innocent people have been unfairly included terrorist count. Also, example of Tamil Nadu cannot be used to reach optimistic conclusions, due to massive difference in culture and historical data.
Ajaya K Dutt Aug 28, 2011 06:29am
How is it confirmed that "Terrorist and Insurgents" are truly "Terrorist and Insurgents"?
Concerned World Citi Aug 28, 2011 07:35am
Can peace and peaceful approach not get a chance? How can that be accomplished
srimanta majumdar Aug 28, 2011 10:30am
Being an INDIAN its really worrying that we have such a volatile neighbour which is just at the brink of a collapse.Our security forces have to work day and night to make sure that there is no spillage of extremists from across the border
Patel Kalpesh Aug 28, 2011 12:01pm
As far As India have Modi's alike India do not need enemy.
Saad Aug 28, 2011 01:05pm
Bad situation in Pakistan doesn't mean that India is great! India has its own problems and agendas and I think it would be wise for the Indian government and people to sort out their issues rather than keenly looking into Pakistan's problems. It is high time that we step up, come on the roads and throw this govt once and for all!!!
Harinder Aug 28, 2011 03:30pm
Till Pakistanis learn the art of "TOLERANCE" they are going to head the Somali way.
Mohammed Aug 28, 2011 03:36pm
India is also a volatile country . BJP and RSS are extremist parties and there are thousands of incidents where innocent minorities have been brutally killed even massacred .
Mohammed Aug 28, 2011 03:46pm
Social disparity , lack of economic activity ,injustice ,corruption and lawlessness are the main reason of this dismal situation. Our rulers are responsible for it and our contribution is that we vote for them.
Mohammed Aug 28, 2011 03:49pm
There is not much tolerance in Asian Socities including India , you know that .
Patt Aug 28, 2011 04:59pm
How is it confirmed that all innocent civilians are actually innocent civilians? Obviously it is easy to tell about the Children but claims of everyone being an innocent is pretty far fetched also.
Patt Aug 28, 2011 05:01pm
Well said , This is what we do not understand in America, the fact that there are so many that are ready to kill others for nothing more than a different belief, how can any one defeat someone willing to die and take as many possible with them ?
Agnostic Aug 28, 2011 05:29pm
Both countries,Pakistan & India are the victims of intolerance, Pakistan victim of religion intolerance, India victim of religion & caste discrimination.
Draculin Aug 28, 2011 10:04pm
Why people bring India into this discussion? Please grow up! Sixty years have been passed and you still need to compare with India? For what reason?
Sandeep Aug 28, 2011 11:12pm
We have to start from the very begining. Tell me who started it.....
Sania Aug 28, 2011 11:33pm
I cant rember any violence on this scale in Pakistani before 2001 and guess who appeared on the scene in the region at the same time ..the righteous and holy USA. As you Indian bloggers telling us how peaceful India is ....there a few massacres by exremist Hindu groups that seems to have slipped out of your history or your memories. Pakistan was pretty peaceful until 2001 and thats a fact, American aid is not worth the price we will keep paying while we hanging onto their tails and we wont even talk about pride and respect this country loses in the process
mlk Aug 29, 2011 06:41am
Totally agree man.
Tajammal Aug 29, 2011 09:51am
How peaceful your country is? Remember the Gujrat riots, Sikh riots of 1984, more them 10000 anti muslim riots after 1947, Don't muddle the truth.
SLDUA (Delhi) Aug 29, 2011 11:04am
India has its own enomous problems and it is on the right path to solve them. BUT INDIA IS NOT A VOLATILE COUNTRY.
AZHAR CHAUDHRY Aug 29, 2011 11:08am
but we should ask the Government How?, Why? and When? Not always "What." If we go beyond "What", there could be a solution to these crimes causing death and insecurity. It is all Government' fault for failing to provide adequate security to the citizens. Rise up and call it a crime and penalize civil servants instead of keeping the mute button "ON" always.
SLDUA (Delhi) Aug 29, 2011 11:10am
You want to get rid of your politicians and leaders. From where will you bring the leadership material? The solution does not lie in replacing bad leaders but in reforming them and the system.
Shashwat Mishra Aug 29, 2011 11:24am
@ Mohammed, Please qoute the source from where you learnt that there are thousands of minority killing incidents. I live in India and I don't see these thousands of minority killing incidents. Perhaps you have access to some information source which Indian's don't. BJP is an extermist party? Granted they have a Hindu bias, but being extremist and being biased are different things entirely. If you form an all Muslim party in India, it is considered as minority interest protection but if you have a party that speaks for the majority religion, they must be extremist. Who speaks for Hindus or any other Religion in Pakistan?
Shashwat Mishra Aug 29, 2011 11:30am
@ RK Singh, India is 6 times bigger than Pakistan. So must it also be 6 times as violent? How many daily gun battles do you see in Mumbai?
Rajab Aug 29, 2011 01:51pm
Stop pulling India everytime. If you want to live, learn to live.
james Aug 29, 2011 07:33pm
trying to find solace in comparing with India always is meaningless. try to stand up against injustice, govt. inaction and destructive religious and politicians. try to call a spade a spade
Muhammad Hanif Aug 30, 2011 05:34am
Is Govt. so helpless to take drastic measures to curb those who are deteriorating peace?
Akil Akhtar Sep 01, 2011 09:34am
2000 Mulims killed in Gujrat alone, look up any news on it at the time.
Akil Akhtar Sep 01, 2011 09:39am
We also can not understand how a race can have so much capacity for war and dropping bombs on innocent civilians. People like those in Iraq who had done nothing to you. How can a race be so inhumane as to kill a million people for no reason and still have no conscience to bother them and go about their way of life as if nothing has happenend.
Awais Khan Sep 06, 2011 11:05am
There is a massacre going on in Karachi and every individual throughout Pakistan is affected by it.
Liaqat Sep 07, 2011 04:41pm
When Pakistani population start to rise up and elect their leaders based on good policies and honesty rather than family connection, bribes etc. Only then there will be stability and pace in Pakistan, the Pakistani politician will work for the interest of Pakistan instead of some foreign power (US or west)