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Insuring minorities against sectarian violence

Published Aug 01, 2012 04:28pm


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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.


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

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

Comments (24) Closed

Muhammad Fartad Aug 01, 2012 01:06pm
Not only the minorities, but victims of all sorts of nameless and faceless killers should be insured.
Kanwal Aug 01, 2012 01:28pm
Its quite right to say that Pakistani government has never been able to protect minorities. The settlement of an insurance looks like a long shot though. This governing elite, civilian or judiciary or military, picks all it can for itself before it has to leave office. We can not expect them for a long time to come to do something like this. I also agree i have yet to see Shias among most KP tribes, so forget about other minorities. And when we interact with even the most highly qualified people from KP tribes, you find a profound resentment bordering on hate towards Shias and Ahmadis. Moreover, in my personal experience, i have seen them having little sympathy for the sectarian killings, even doubting whether all these incidents are sectarian killings or not. How many people have seen Imran Khan condemning sectarian killings perpetrators of which are sitting in his own party now? Forget about Parachanar, Hazaras, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus. These fervent jihadis need a target and they have no doubt spread over all the major university campuses in Pakistan, though to a lesser extent in Karachi I hope (Just hoping!). Thanks to Zia ul Haq's legacy, we have a great breeding land for all kinds of extremism right now. I think inducting diversity in the intelligence agencies is not going to help too much because in general, the agencies are serving the government, military or civilian. And eliminating sectarian violence is not going to help towards maintaining the status quo of the current elite, would it? Its the mentality of the public that needs changing. And media can play a huge role in it, provided they dont receive death threats as often as they do from these militants. We have seen many examples of this in talk shows where they invited the mullahs representing these militant or ex-militant organisation, especially the ones which popped up with a different name pretty recently after their original organisation was banned. Sectarian violence is slow poisoning for Pakistan. It caused a huge brain drain from the educated class of pakistan. Hope this nation wakes up any time soon.
sabi Aug 01, 2012 12:56pm
"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." how come blashphamy victoms get speedy trial with no visible evidence and face their fate behind bars.Whereas hate monsters, mullah openly inciting public to kill others on difference of beliefs and the same govt.machinery is silent despite every proof of voilation of state law.The phrase rule of jungle giving way to the phrase rule of savage mullah in pakistan
Abdullah Aug 03, 2012 10:00am
Maulana Aslam Sheikhupuri martyred in May, 2012
Hasan Aug 01, 2012 12:42pm
Supporters of Taliban should be eliminated including foreign money from middle east
Irfan Hussain Aug 01, 2012 12:37pm
The first thing government should do to protect the religious minorities is to stop Saudi money entering in the county.
QASIM Aug 02, 2012 11:50am
Thanks for a good propsal.The killer who want to see his victims in misery.By decreasing misery effects will have effect on killer to not kill.
Cyrus Howell Aug 01, 2012 09:19pm
Like the theory. Sounds good on paper. If only the world worked that way.
Laeeq Aug 02, 2012 02:10am
Where Governor and Minorities minister of sitting government are murdered, son of the governor is kidnaped, what chance minorities got in this country of 98 % muslims? They are at the mercy of ruthless indiscriminate masses of extremist elements. Until we don't change the mindset of our Mullahs, there is no future for minorities in Pakistan.
truth Aug 02, 2012 02:52am
Money from Iran/saudia should be stoped, it is creating big problem is our the region, same rights should be given to Shia which Sunnis have in Iran. Sunnis cant even pray Eid prayers in Tehran.They are not allowed to build mosque, they can only in the area where they are in majority...
malik Aug 02, 2012 03:41am
Thanks for such nice article. Time and again we have proven that we cannot tolerate any minorities in our country. As far as your suggestion of monetary damages goes I am sure no one will listen to it.
sam ahsan Aug 02, 2012 03:51am
One thing I have noticed that whenever an anti-taliban statement shows up in 'Dawn' or violence against 'minorities' is highlighted, the number of responses / suggestions are very few. Is it because majority of pakistanis are in love with 'taliban' or have become 'taliban' sympathasizers. Are they living in a state of denial.................just a random thought. I am a pakistani myself.
Karachi Aug 02, 2012 03:58am
Does anyone knows how many innocent sunni alims have been killed my shia militant groups in pakistan, just because they were sunnis and belonged to deoband sect..?
Omer Aug 02, 2012 04:59am
Such articles only promote the sectarian divide rather than eliminating it. Lives of all people in the country are valuable whether belonging to any sect or religion.
napak Aug 02, 2012 05:37am
I haven't heard of a place where muslims live and it's peaceful.
Henry Martin Aug 02, 2012 12:18pm
Until we have "mullahs" there is no future for Pakistan, let alone the minorities.
rehan1975 Aug 02, 2012 07:29am
The 2nd thing it should do is to prevent US money from entering the country !
rehan1975 Aug 02, 2012 07:32am
A lot of comments about Saudi money being stopped . While we are at it , US money should be refused right away as well as it is contributing nothing to the development of the country . The much hyped CSF is peanuts compared to the sacrifices we have made !
Hasan Aug 02, 2012 07:49am
Not even a single Sunni scholar is killed in Pakistan in last 10 years. Please give me name if any?
Amna Aug 02, 2012 08:08am
Good Analysis !
FAB Aug 03, 2012 04:43am
good proposal.
Abdullah Aug 03, 2012 06:21am
What about Iranian money entering the country ?
hashim Aug 03, 2012 12:47pm
They dont have any!
mian Aug 04, 2012 03:12am
you must be living under a rock...what about all the big mosques on every next block on karachi superhighway