Political Violence in Pakistan: Understanding Subnational Patterns

Politics violence has long been endemic in Pakistan, but the scale, scope, and geographic distribution of the problem has not been systematically studies. This gap poses problems for both policy and academic research. On the policy side, decision makers lack credible quantitative data with which to weigh the relative costs of politically-motivated violence against the many other challenges facing Pakistan. On the academic side, scholars lack the ability to quantitatively assess the role of violence in Pakistani’s political and economic development since the end of the Ziaul- Haq era in 1988. Initial findings from the data reveal that: Balochistan, FATA, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were peaceful in absolute terms, relative to the rest of Pakistan, until 2004-5. In per-capita terms these regions were roughly as violent as Sindh, though less violent than Punjab. Violence of all types increased dramatically in all three areas from 2004-on. The timing of this increase is inconsistent with narratives that lay blame for recent increases in political violence in either: (a) the spread of madrassas (these were around beforehand and are prevalent in areas that have not seen a surge in violence); (b) U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (which started in 2001, though the war there became more intense from 2005 on); or (c) a national anti-state campaign spurred by a state crackdown following the Lal Masjid siege (that would imply a national increase in violence which we do not see, though could be strategic decision by militants not to bring the war to Punjab and Sindh). Levels of sectarian violence in Punjab have been relatively consistent for the last 20 years, there is no recent increase. Most of Sindh has been quite peaceful; violence in that province is almost entirely concentrated in Karachi./ Brief Summary: Jacob Shapiro (Princeton) and Rasul Baksh Rais (LUMS) aim to understand and present empirical evidence of subnational patterns of violence in Pakistan. They have developed a database of approximately 28,000 incidents of political violence in Pakistan reported in major newspapers from 1988 to the present. This policy brief presents preliminary evidence and argues for a data-driven approach in answering challenges posed by political violence. Political violence has long been endemic in Pakistan, but the scale, scope, and geographic distribution of the problem has not been systematically studied. On the policy side, decision makers lack credible quantitative data with which to weigh the relative costs of politically-motivated violence against the many other challenges facing Pakistan. On the academic side, scholars lack the ability to quantitatively assess the role of violence in Pakistani’s political and economic development. To remedy these gaps Shapiro and Rais developed incident-level data on political violence in Pakistan from 1988 to the present.

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