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Exploring the fault lines

Published Aug 31, 2011 02:58pm


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Almost 37,000 violent deaths due to communal, sectarian, and political strife in a mere span of eight years suggest that somewhere something has gone awfully wrong in Pakistan. There are at least two ways to react to such dismal circumstances. One can either look for scapegoats and blame others for one’s misery; or one can indulge in much needed introspection.

Let me first focus on scapegoats. Many would argue that the sorry of state of affairs in Pakistan is because of the United States’ misadventures in the region. There is some truth in this statement. The United States and its allies have embarked on a futile, immoral, and (many would argue) illegal war in Afghanistan that has now spilled into Pakistan. Thousands have died on both sides of the Durand Line as a result of the Afghan war.

Then there is India, which is blamed for all things bad about Pakistan. India is often accused of arming the militants in Balochistan, helping the Taliban against Pakistan in Afghanistan, and recruiting and training of suicide bombers. And last but not least, Israel is also suspected of many wrongdoings. The Karachi police’s recent claim of recovering Israeli firearms from the militants is one such example.

I wonder what would happen if the (assumed or genuine) external catalysts of violence were to disappear completely from Pakistan. If the causes of violence are all external to Pakistan, peace should then return in their absence. However, the communal, sectarian, and ideological fault lines run deep in Pakistan. The external agents may have some role in instigating violence, however, the longstanding domestic discords are behind the anarchy that prevails in Pakistan. After all, the sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shias predates the partition in 1947. Since 1989 alone, sectarian violence has claimed the lives of 3,600 Pakistanis while injuring another 7,700 (see the breakdown in the table below).

Source: South Asia Terrorism portal (

While we may be tempted to blame others, I believe the fault lies within. I have been a witness to the aftermath of such clashes that ended with death and destruction. In July 1992, bullets fired from a mosque killed eight in an Ashura procession in Peshawar City. Some of the dead were Sunni Muslims who were part of the Ashura procession but were mistaken for Shias by the militants.

Soon after the attack, armed tribesmen from the neighbouring tribal areas took Peshawar hostage. For days they destroyed private property and desecrated Shia graveyards by throwing grenades and firing bullets on headstones. Four more died in clashes in the next two days. Both Shia and Sunni mosques were attacked and damaged. The Army was called in three days later to restore law and order. As the army rode into Peshawar, the tribesmen retreated to safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In the weeks, months, and years that followed no attempt was made to bring to justice those who killed, destroyed property, and took Peshawar hostage. The then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made bold statements against the sectarian strife in the Parliament, but nothing concrete materialised.

For years Pakistanis have ignored sectarian violence because most victims of sectarian violence belonged to religious minorities. The religious extremists took majority’s apathy as an endorsement of their murderous acts and broadened their targets to include even those Sunni Muslims who did not conform to their absolutist views about faith, society, and the State.

Soon no religious group would escape religious violence in Pakistan. The 57 victims of suicide bombing at Nishtar Park (Karachi) in April 2006, the 20 SSG commandoes killed in September 2007 in Tarbela-Ghazi, the 50 worshippers killed during Eid prayers in Charsadda in December 2007, the 50 devotees who died in the suicide bombing at Data Darbar in July 2010, and the 50 who died during Friday prayers in Jamrud on August 19 are all examples of religious terrorism against the Sunni majority in Pakistan.

Nothing is sacred in Pakistan any more. Even though fighting is prohibited during Muharram, however year after year dozens fall victim to sectarian violence during the sacred month. Mosques are supposed to be the symbol of peace and refuge in a Muslim society; instead they have become the target of choice for suicide bombers. Ramazan is supposed to be the month of prayer, spirituality and forgiveness; however, recent carnage in Karachi during Ramazan has drowned citizens in grief and despair.

For Muslims, Friday is the day of prayer. It is the day when Muslims are asked to forgo commerce and join others in a congregational prayer. Yet, Friday has become the most violence prone day in Pakistan. In 2010 alone, 43 per cent of the 1,547 victims of bomb blasts were killed on a Friday. In Balochistan and Punjab, Fridays accounted for almost 60 per cent of all bomb blast-related deaths.

Source: South Asia Terrorism portal (

It is hard to argue with the fact that Pakistan is at war with herself. While her enemies must have some hand in fanning the flames, however, the communal, sectarian, and ideological fault lines are now threatening the viability of the State and society.

Almost 64 years ago Pakistan was a dream shared by the Sunnis and Shias, Balochs and Sindhis, Punjabis and Pushtuns, Bengalis and several others. The same dream is now split along the communal, sectarian, and ideological fault lines.

From this rubble of collapsed identities a new nation has to emerge with a common purpose and shared destiny. A nation not defined by common descent, history, culture, language or belief, but a nation characterised by the diversity in beliefs, cultures, and languages.

This is a much bigger challenge than the one faced in 1947 when there was a shared dream.

*This is the second half of a three-part article. The first half can be found here.

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 (13) Closed

krishna Aug 31, 2011 02:47pm
hi, excellent data based approach. U must also prove the 'foreign hand ' theory by finding some suitable statistical correlation by doing some extensive data mining. The weekly pattern is interesting. the monday outliers for NWFP and fata and wednesday for punjab need to be investigated, because here you may be able to develop a non sectarian based theory and then validation for the deaths and probably may be able to solve it. Because clearly nothing could probably be done to prevent the friday deaths, because they are religious matters and they are consistent across all areas.
Syed Hyder Aug 31, 2011 02:56pm
Nice effort mate.
Rajiv Kaushal Aug 31, 2011 02:58pm
Worst thing is when people kill each other... but here is what i see... i dont know its good or bad... number of incidents have gone down drastically... what does it reflect.. although the number of causalities have gone much higher... if we do the brain storming, only thing we can understand it that these were never isolated incidents... these were well organised crimes... earlier in the late 80's or early 90's weapons were not lethal so more individuals were employed to create anarchy and more incidents were required.. now the same teams are able to do it with less people and more lethal weapons... the only positive i see out of it is that perhaps common man are not part of these so called sectarian violence... These for sure are political murders.... that takes away a lot of blame from common pakistani and bring hope that if you guys can tame some big shots... most of the problem or all the problems can be solved
Sarfraz Malik Aug 31, 2011 03:02pm
Excellent article Murtaza... Secterianism has been going on for a lot of time in our society but I see that the biggest issue in Pakistan is that everyone is disillusioned.. Politicians..Judiciary, Army.. Educated class or non educated.. Most of people ( 98% in my opion) blame someone outside of pakistan for its woes and current situation.. None to willing to realize this internal cancer that has almost finished the country. I find it hard to reason with most people as they are just not ready to listen. In my opinion the dream of muslim country based on 2 nation theory has failed.. I dont have any hope to see a peacefull pakistan in my life time. Maybe future generations have bettar luck..
MM Aug 31, 2011 10:35pm
Good analysis but you have missed the corruption and incompetence of politicians and political parties. They have invested little in security and in dealing with the faultlines. The leaders are bereft of any ideas other than pronouncing that they will deal with terrorists and criminals with iron fist!
(Dr.) B.N. Anand fro Aug 31, 2011 10:35pm
Sir An excellant article elaborated with impressive graphics. It is a really something which calls for serious introspection why of all the weekdays, Friday turns out to be the day when maximum killings of Muslims by Muslims occur and that too in an islamic country. BNA
Syed Husain Sep 01, 2011 02:55am
I agree with Mr. Sarfaraz. Lets accept it.
shafi Sep 01, 2011 03:06am
Murtaza, Your analysis is fine and probably well accepted through out Pakistan. We all know deep down that there are these fundamental differences which are causing havoc in the country. The major problems is how to get rid of these hatreds and hateful fundamental differences that you have rightly highlighted? There has to be a magic bullet to cure this cancer not just a hope that one day everything will be hanky dory. Please find that bullet.
hanif Sep 01, 2011 05:27am
Statistically good article. But missing an essential ingredient in the mix ie Army. Internal and external both have dotted lines towards the army and that needs to be highlighted.
Haris Sep 01, 2011 09:47am
Murtuza you correctly identified there is the missing shared vision, goals and may be national identity as well. As you said Pakistani nation can not be defined on the basis of common descent, history culture, language or belief; because these things are not common between several ethnic and sectarian groups residing here. Pakhthuns are culturally more closer to afghans than Sindhis or Punjabis, Punjab is more related to its other half in India than to balochistan, consider Baltis, Kashmiris, Hazaras, Karachiwallas etc etc etc. For years our establishment frightened from diversity tried to create a nation on the basis of religious beleifs they thought will serve best to our security, but it feels adhesive is not working as intended. I hope in coming years not etablishment but intellectuals will be able to create a new more effective sense of natinality. It could be based on common values instead of beliefs, may be like that of USA.
omar Sep 01, 2011 04:21pm
Our establishment and the politicians in order to hide their short comings always want to highlight the external hand and people are also carried away with that line. This has been going on since 1947, when will it end.
shafiq chughtai Sep 01, 2011 08:18pm
nice work dear
ruzuzuzu Sep 04, 2011 12:30pm
Mr. Murtaza please explore 'statistics' and write about the future of the region and what should be done to make it better. It is no use crying over spilt milk.