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Insuring minorities against sectarian violence

August 01, 2012


Since 1992, almost 4,000 Pakistanis have died in sectarian violence; another 8,000 have been injured. The plight of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan suggests that the State has consistently failed to protect the lives and property of sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan. The least it can do is to insure all sectarian and religious minorities against sectarian violence.

Furthermore, the government may want to induct fresh talent in the intelligence agencies to improve religious and sectarian diversity in their rank and file. While the management cadre in the intelligence agencies may reflect such diversity, the same cannot be said about those operating at the street level. A diverse workforce will help improve transparency and efficiency amongst the intelligence agencies who appear to have made little effort in having such balance in the past.

While insuring victims against sectarian violence will not save lives, it is most likely to ease the economic sufferings of the victims' families who fall into poverty after the  breadwinners are lost to sectarian violence. Furthermore, having the private sector directly compensate victims' families will protect them from being victimised again by a myriad of state agencies who always want a cut in the state-sponsored compensation.

Let me first explain why I propose that sectarian and religious minorities be insured as a priority. After all, the entire society has now become a victim of terrorist violence in Pakistan that may want the entire society to be insured against terrorist violence. While the cost may be a prime consideration, I also believe that unlike sectarian violence, the non-sectarian violence will soon subside in Pakistan, which makes insuring the religious and sectarian minorities a long-term priority.


Sectarian violence in Pakistan has preceded the heightened violence that erupted in 2001. In all likelihood the indiscriminate violence will dissipate once Nato forces depart from Afghanistan. The same cannot be assumed about sectarian murders, which are targeted killings of individuals for their beliefs. Also,  sectarian murders did not begin with the slaughter of Prophet Muhammad's family at the banks of Euphrates in 680 CE (61 Hijra), nor will it end if the Taliban and others were to give up militancy.

In fact, it is also possible that sectarian violence may worsen in Pakistan after Nato troops depart from Afghanistan. The same happened after the militancy subsided in the Indian-controlled Kashmir when militants returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan searching for new causes. Shias have always proven to be an easy target.

The sectarian murders of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, and to some extent Turis and Bangash tribes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have a racist twist as well. Shia Hazras' unique faces set them apart from others in Balochistan, thus making them an easy target in an otherwise overwhelmingly Sunni majority province. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shias are again a tiny minority in the province, where most Pushtun tribes follow the Deobandi school of thought. Most Pushtun tribes have no Shias amongst them. I have yet to meet a Shia Waziri or Dawar. The Shias in tribal Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are mostly a sub-group amongst the Turi and Bangash tribes who are again an easy target because they are clustered along sectarian lines. Villages inhabited by Shias in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s tribal areas have often come under attack where the militants use heavy artillery (an Afghan war gift that keeps on giving) to pound Shia homes and mosques.

Nothing is more illustrative of the race-driven sectarian violence in tribal KPK than the Tal-Parachinar road, where Sunni tribesmen have stopped vehicles carrying Shia tribesmen to Parachinar and have either killed them in cold blood or abducted them for ransom.

Sectarian violence cannot be dealt with force

The police and judicial system cannot address sectarian violence in Pakistan, a point I have made in an earlier essay where I demonstrated that judges and witnesses are often harassed by the accused and forced to withdraw cases or change statements. Furthermore, the judicial system is too archaic to convict the accused on forensic and circumstantial evidence. Despite phone logs and wiretaps revealing guilt, convictions are hard, if not outright impossible, to attain.

Most, if not all terrorist incubators are known to police, but the police cannot act for two reasons: Political leadership often restrains police fearing a backlash from the jihadis against its political interests and personal well-being. The murder of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer, and several attacks on Aftab Khan Sherpao are a few of several such examples. Politicians' families have also been targeted in the past. Unidentified gunmen in 2010 killed Rashid Hussain, son of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister for information, Iftikhar Hussain.

The police are also a frequent target as is illustrated by the murder of Frontier's fearless FC Commandant, Siffat Ghayoor, who was also Aftab Sherpao's brother-in-law, and SSP Ashraf Marth in Punjab (1997), who was a brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujat Husain. In fact the four accused of SSP Marth's murder were acquitted by the courts after junior police officers recanted their earlier statements against the accused.

How to incentivise out of terrorism

Economic incentives have limited utility to dissuade people from terrorism. Madrassahs are just one of the places where hardliners have been trained. Hostels of universities across Pakistan, engineering universities in particular, have become the breeding grounds of rather sophisticated terrorists who are comfortable with GPS, laptops, and sophisticated explosives. Thus, madrassa reform is not to do much good.

Also, since the sectarian murders are being committed out of religious fervour, monetary incentives to dissuade would be suicide bombers are unlikely to succeed.

The state should therefore insure all sectarian and religious minorities against sectarian and communal violence in Pakistan. The government should pay the insurance premium so that if and when an Ahmadi, Christian, Hindu, or a Shia is murdered or injured in sectarian violence, the insurance company compensates the survivors of the victims. Let each murder victim be compensated for $100,000 and the rates for those who are injured be set generously to reflect the loss of limb/s, livelihoods and future forgone earnings. With 4,000 deaths in sectarian violence since 1992, an estimated compensation of $400 million would have been required.

This would also make the sectarian extremists  realize that by murdering shias and others, they are no longer able to extoll financial misery on the families of their victims. Also, the children of sectarian murder victims should be given priority for employment in law enforcement. This should be subject to the victim's children having the right credentials.

Intelligence revamp

To preempt sectarian attacks in the long-run, Pakistan needs a strong, and at the same time, diverse intelligence apparatus. The intelligence agencies should take a stock of how many Shias, Brelvis, and non-Muslims are managing desks for domestic intelligence and report to the State if the religious diversity in Pakistan is also reflected in the rank and file and the leadership of the intelligence apparatus. If diversity is missing in these agencies they will be well-served to induct in-service officers from armed forces, law enforcement agencies, and other federal and provincial government departments, such as foreign service or information, to restore diversity in their ranks. This will help intelligence agencies to broaden their networks and introduce internal checks and oversight.

The above mentioned proposals should be part of a much larger strategy to address violence in Pakistan that has regrettably become one of its most defining characteristics.


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.