In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Grande Strategy

Terrorism in Pakistan: The Emerging Trends

by Tariq M. Ashraf


Terrorism was a virtually unheard of phenomenon in Pakistan till the late 1970s and early 1980s when coincident with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US sponsored Jihad against the Soviets resulted in the religious elements in Pakistan’s NWFP Province being pushed into the forefront of the armed struggle. The large-scale provision of US supplied weapons was instrumental in the militarization of the religious groups and elements in Pakistan. Such widespread and lasting was this militancy and its impact that even today, after a lapse of almost a decade and a half, Pakistan is still confronted with religious militancy and terrorism that can be traced back to her support of the US sponsored anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

Spread of Terrorism in Pakistan

Decade of the 1980s. The massive influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought in over 3.5 million foreigners into Pakistan. Based on the ethnic and linguistic affinity of the Afghan refugees with the inhabitants of the NWFP and Baluchistan, a large number of the refugees settled in these provinces. So high was the number of these temporary settlers in some of the areas that the entire demography of Pakistani territory adjacent to Afghanistan underwent a change. This change in demography virtually altered the socio-cultural landscape of the provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan. An idea of the immense demographic impact on the Pakistan territory bordering Afghanistan can be had from the following table:-

              Region Local population Refugee population
              Kurram 289,000 347,146
              Chagai 120,000 166,038
              North Waziristan 235,000 195,691
              Bajaur 287,000 195,691
              Kohat 538,000 228,284
              Pishin 374,000 168,509

Figure 1 : Impact of Influx of Afghan Refugees on Local demography of NWFP1

The enormous flow of funds and military equipment to support and sustain the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan brought about the following significant changes that in time, were to play a major role in the increased occurrence of terrorism in Pakistan:

    The availability of weapons provided an opportunity for the religious groups in Pakistan to arm and equip their ranks. So powerful and connected were these groups that they were even able to divert a substantial portion of the weapons destined for the Mujahideen, into their own inventories.

    The success that they militarily had against the Soviet hordes strengthened the belief of the religious groups regarding the power that they could wield. This emboldened and encouraged them to strengthen their military potential so as to be able to play a more prominent role in the affairs of state of countries like Pakistan.

    The involvement of the Pakistan Army and the US military in the Afghan freedom struggle afforded an excellent opportunity for the members of the Islamic parties in Pakistan to be imparted military training of the highest standard.

    In the aftermath of the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and the Shi’ite revolution in Iran, the predominantly Sunni Taleban and their supporters in Pakistan were soon able to find another target for their newly found military prowess in the minority Shia community within Pakistan – the sectarian war had begun.

    All Islamic parties in Pakistan had earlier been trying solely to attain power through the electoral process of the political system but had never succeeded in these endeavours. Having defeated the mighty Soviet juggernaut in Afghanistan and having witnessed the Islamic revolution in Iran, they were now keen to try the same in Pakistan in an attempt to gain control of the affairs of state in this country.

    Other than being able to lay their hands on weaponry and military expertise, the Islamic parties in Pakistan, especially those directly involved in the Afghanistan freedom struggle, were able to obtain access to substantial finances that were flowing in from the US and other Afghan jihad supporters such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This enormous cache of easy cash would subsequently help the Islamic parties in Pakistan in not only furthering their political goals but also in widening and enlarging their network of religious schools known as madrassas which served as their main recruiting grounds. According to Akmal Hussain, “The institutional roots of ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ were laid when the (Zia) regime provided government funds for establishing mosque schools (madrassas) in small towns and rural areas, which led to the rapid growth of militant religious organizations.”2 According to one estimate there were 3393 madrassas in the Pakistani province of Punjab in 1998 with an estimated enrolment of 306,500 students3. Two-thirds of these madrassas had been established during the Zia regime and the period immediately after it came to an end in 1988 after General Zia’s sudden and untimely death in the ill-fated C-130 crash close to Bahawalpur. According to Zia-ul-Hassan Khan, ‘as many as 42% of the madrassas in Punjab were actively promoting sectarian violence through a well conceived indoctrination process.4 The rapid pace at which sectarian terrorism spread was evident from the fact that the number of sectarian killings increased by a factor of over seven times from 22 during the 1987-89 period to 167 during the 1993-95 period.5 According to data obtained from the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) of the Pakistan Ministry of Interior in Islamabad, the known political affiliation of the 4345 registered madrassas was as follows:-

      Political Party Number of Affiliated Madrassas
      1 JUI(F) 815
      2 JUI(S) 58
      3 Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith 29
      4 SSP 167
      5 TJP 119
      6 Jamaat-i- Islami 68
      7 Miscellaneous 2,969
      8 Total 4,345

    Figure 2 : Political Affiliation of Madrassas6

According to the same source, the number of students attending these madrassas along with their nationality, was as follows:-

      Country of Nationality Number of Students
      1 Pakistan 586,604
      2 Afghanistan 16,598
      3 Other countries 1,219

      Total 604,421

Figure 3 : Countries of Origin of Madrassa Students7

Decade of the 1990s.

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan led to a long period of civil war and unrest in Afghanistan that ultimately led to the emergence of the Taleban who overran almost the entire Afghanistan and were able to bring an element of stability to the war-torn and ravaged country.

A significant number of the Mujahideen who had earlier spearheaded the struggle against the Soviets were now left without any adversary and most filtered back into Pakistan. While some were probably able to find their way into the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) and started participating actively in the freedom struggle against the India armed forces occupying Kashmir, others stayed back in Pakistan and became integral parts of the religious parties that had earlier supported them and their cause in Afghanistan. It is not surprising, therefore, that the revival / resurgence of the freedom struggle in India Kashmir almost coincided with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On the political side, the emergence of the Al-Zulfiqar Organization (AZO) under Murtaza Bhutto with the active support of Afghanistan and India also ushered in the phenomenon of political terrorism into Pakistan for the first time. Another interesting aspect of the AZO terrorism campaign was the fact that since most of the Bhutto family belonged to the Shia sect and had ancestral linkages with Shia-dominated Iran, their operations also ended up being given a sectarian tinge.

The NCMC has also worked out the sect-wise affiliation of the madrassas in order to determine whether these were catering to the Shia or the Sunni communities. The sect-wise affiliation of the madrassas is depicted in the subsequent chart:-

        Sect / Denomination No. of Madrassas

        Sunni Deobandi 2,306

        Barelvi 1,652

        Ahl-e-Hadith 225




        Total 4,376

Figure 4 : Sect-wise affiliation of Madrassas8

Another new type and form of terrorism that Pakistan was exposed to in the wake of the renewed freedom struggle in Indian Held Kashmir was the increased spate of acts of border area sabotage all along the India – Pakistan border. Organized by the RAW, these incidents of terrorism replaced the earlier such acts being conducted jointly by the RAW, the KGB and the Khad with the collusion of the AZO. These acts of foreign abetted terrorism had the following salient characteristics:-

    These acts were generally conducted by Indian trained terrorists belonging to the border areas of the Punjab.

    These acts of violence were mostly confined to the districts bordering India or areas that were contiguous to these districts.

    Having commenced in parallel with the reactivation of the Kashmiri freedom struggle, the occurrence pattern of these Indian sponsored acts of terrorism over the last few years is depicted below9:

    Year Number of Indian sponsored Terrorist Acts
    1999 13
    2000 29
    2001 22
    2002 06
    2003 00

Figure 5 : Indian sponsored acts of terrorism against Pakistan

In the time period since 1999, a total of 116 deaths and 565 injuries have occurred because of these acts of sabotage with 30 of the saboteurs involved being apprehended by the Pakistani security agencies.10

The geographical occurrence distribution of these acts of terrorism is depicted on the map reproduced below. As the black boxes signifying acts of terrorism indicate, virtually all the acts of Indian sponsored terrorism have occurred in the border districts adjacent to the Pakistan – India international border.

Figure 6 : Location of Indian sponsored terrorist acts in border areas.

While the Indian sponsored acts of terrorism along Pakistan’s Eastern borders have visibly reduced in number as well as intensity over the last few years, the danger of a similar threat on Pakistan’s Western border with Afghanistan is now emerging. This realization stems from the growing Indo-Afghan nexus and the establishment of Indian Consulates in the cities of Jalalabad and Kandahar. It can be expected that RAW operatives based in these cities could precipitate a wave of terrorist activities along Pakistan’s Western border just as they were earlier doing along Pakistan’s Eastern frontiers.

Terrorism in Pakistan in the New Millenium

With the advent of the 21st Century, Pakistan finds itself faced with an altered dimension of the terrorism threat. With the previously prevalent dimensions of the terrorist threat posed by the Afghan Mujahideen and the Indian sponsored terrorists having gradually faded out, Pakistan is now confronted with the following new dimensions of the terrorist threat:-

    The increased danger of sectarian motivated acts of violence between the militant Shia and Sunni groups that have gained in power and influence over the recent past. External as well as internal influences have impacted the sectarian issues and have served to further intensify the magnitude and seriousness of the problem.

    The threat posed to Pakistan’s internal stability and domestic security by the influx of the erstwhile Jehadi elements from Afghanistan. These followers / members of the Al-Qaeda organization, having been deprived of the sanctuary afforded to them by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, have trickled across the porous Durand Line that marks the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Menace of Sectarian Terrorism in Pakistan

Though Shia-Sunni differences have existed for several centuries, the two communities had learnt to amicably co-exist in South Asia in a harmonious manner. Sectarian violence, therefore, was an extremely rare and unheard of phenomenon in Pakistan with sectarian disputes being very localized and confined rather than being frequent and widespread.

The initial feeling of insecurity of the Shia minority11 led to a realization on their part that they needed to be politically represented at the national level for the protection of their rights. This realization culminated in the creation of the Tehrik-e-Jafriya Pakistan (TJP) in 1979 during the early days of General Zia’s reign. The Sunni majority countered in 1984 by creating the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) as a vehicle for the implementation of their political agenda. The creation of the TJP and the SSP laid the basis of the political differences between the Shia and the Sunni sects and soon thereafter, both the sects ended up establishing the militant organs of their respective organizations under the banner of the Shia dominated Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) in 1994 and the Sunni controlled Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in 1996. The establishment of these overtly militant organs introduced a new element of violence in the inter-sect disputes that continues to plague Pakistan’s social fabric till this day.

One very interesting aspect that emerges from the dates when these sectarian organizations were established is the fact that both the Shia organizations, the TJP12 initially and later the militant SMP preceded the formation of similar Sunni organizations by as much as 2-5 years. This indicates a higher degree of political awareness amongst the Shias since they happen to be in a minority with the Sunnis exhibiting the laid-back restraint that typically typifies a majority group.

The origins of Sectarian violence in Pakistan can be traced to the volatile region of Jhang in Central Punjab. This led people to initially assume that sectarian violence was essentially a provincial / regional phenomenon confined to Jhang / Punjab. Because of this feeling, other provinces did not take this phenomenon too seriously till the menace spread elsewhere too. The seriousness of the sectarian menace can be gauged from the fact that sectarian motivated acts of violence have caused 1144 death over the last ten years period – roughly a death every three days.13 One of the major reasons why Jhang emerged as the epicentre of sectarian problems was the fact that the region is primarily a feudal society dominated by landlord who are mostly Shias while the farm workers and the business community of the region are primarily Sunnis. The situation in Jhang, therefore, was rife for sectarian strife. It is no coincidence, therefore, that most of the sectarian organizations have their roots in Jhang and most of the sectarian leaders also belong to this part of the country.

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Figure 7: Linkages of Key Religious and Extremist Groups in Pakistan14

Worrying trend of increasing sectarian terrorism in Baluchistan. Incident of mass killing by firing in Shia imam bargah in Quetta by suicide squad was the first ever incident of this sort ever to occur in Pakistan and carried all the signs of a typical Al-Qaeda operation.

A study of the acts of sectarian terrorism has highlighted a significant difference in targeting philosophies of Shia and Sunni sectarian terrorists. While the former tend to go for high quality / high profile individual targets (eg Maulana Azam Tariq), the latter prefer to go for large scale massacres and mass killings (eg prayer congregations in mosques like the one in Quetta). This goes to show that while Shia terrorists have beenn quite selective in choosing their targets, the Sunni sectarian militants have generally been very indiscriminate as regards target selection.

Though temporarily suppressed, Sunni sectarian militants are down but not out. They are reportedly regrouping. There are indications that some Sunni sectarian elements, in their quest at causing maximum damage to human life, are likely to resort to poisons / gases etc. Some facilities for the production of poison and gases along with instructions for the preparation / production of these were recently found during raids conducted in Karachi area. Currently, sectarian terrorists (both Shia and Sunni) are seen as being on the defensive due to large-scale arrests and detention of individuals involved in acts of sectarian terrorism. It is also important to consider that the ranks of Sunni militants have also been boosted by the inclusion of some of the Dissident Jehadi Elements (DJEs) emanating out of Afghanistan in their ranks since these are all Sunni Deobandi individuals. While Shia activism has generally receded in the Punjab and has lost steam, it is still very active in the metropolitan area of Karachi city.

Statistical Profile of Sectarian Terrorists15

    Figure 8: Statistical Profile of Sectarian Terrorists

    Shia Sunni
    1 Age Average age 20-30 years

    None less than 20 years

    Average age 20-30 years

    14% less than 20 years

    2 Education 39% Matric & below

    30% illiterate

    0% from Madrassas

    36% Matric & below

    19% illiterate

    33% from Madrassas

    3 Weapons Training 100% in Pakistan 5% in Pakistan

    95% abroad

    4 Motivation 66% by speeches / literature

    26% reaction to SSP

    93% by speeches / literature
    5 Financial position 60% poor

    40% middle class

    85% poor

    15% middle class

Incidents of Sectarian Terrorism 1999-200316

Having originated in the Southern part of Central Punjab, in the area of District Jhang, sectarian incidents have now spread all over the country and have truly assumed the proportions of a national problem rather than being just a provincial or a regional issue. An idea of the spread of sectarian incidents can be had from the data in the following chart which covers the five years time period from 1999 till 2003 and lists the number of sectarian incidents on a province-wise distribution.

Year Punjab Sindh NWFP Baluchistan
1999 16 09 05 01
2000 08 15 01 --
2001 22 37 15 02
2002 12 44 -- 01
2003 -- 20 01 04
Total 58 125 22 08

Figure 9 : Incidents of Sectarian Terrorism

The Menace of DJE Involvement in Terrorism in Pakistan

The phenomenon of Dissident Jehadi Elements (DJEs) was a direct fall-out of the invasion of Afghanistan by the US-led Coalition forces which led to the eventual downfall of the Taleban regime in Kabul. The fall of the Taleban introduced a new dimension in terrorism activities in Pakistan because a sizeable number of the Jehadi elements who returned to Pakistan got involved in terrorist activities here. Pakistan’s worry now is that this vast reservoir of trained potential terrorists has already crossed over into Pakistan and this group of individuals who have strong and established links with Pakistani religious groups and parties, would merit extremely careful handling.

Statistical Profiles of DJEs involved in Terrorism17

Figure 10: Statistical Profiles of DJEs Involved in Terrorism
1 Age Average age 15-30 years, none less than 15 years
2 Education 79% Matric or below

7% illiterate

14% with religious education

3 Weapons Training 100% abroad
4 Reasons for becoming militant US policies against Muslims

Pakistan government’s support to US

Religious injunctions (fatwas)

5 Financial position 40% poor

60% middle class

Comparative Profiles of Sectarian Terrorists / DJEs involved in Terrorism

The consolidated table below depicts a comparative profile of the salient characteristics and attributes of Shia and Sunni sectarian terrorists and DJEs involved in acts of terrorism. This comparison has been done keeping in mind the five cardinal characteristics / attributes of age, education, weapons training, motivation for resorting to terrorism and family financial background. It is expected that an analysis of this data would help contribute to a better and more comprehensive understanding of the way the mind of a potential terrorism is shaped and influenced by external factors. Of special interest in this collection of data are the areas of convergence and divergence that emerge and become evident between the sectarian terrorists on one side and the DJEs on the other.

Sectarian Terrorists Dissident Jehadi Elements (DJE)18


1 Age
  • Average age 20-30 years
  • None less than 20 years
  • Average age 20-30 years
  • 14% less than 20 years
  • Average age 15-30 years.
  • None less than 15 years
2 Education
  • 39% Matric & below
  • 30% illiterate
  • 0% from Religious Madrassas
  • 36% Matric & below
  • 19% illiterate
  • 33% from Religious Madrassas
  • 79% Matric or below
  • 7% illiterate
  • 14% with religious education
3 Weapons Training
  • 100% in Pakistan
  • 5% in Pakistan
  • 95% abroad
  • 100% abroad
4 Motivation
  • 66% by speeches / literature
  • 26% reaction to SSP
  • 93% by speeches / literature
  • US policies against Muslims
  • Pakistan government’s support to US
  • Religious injunctions
5 Financial background
  • 60% poor
  • 40% middle class
  • 85% poor
  • 15% middle class
  • 40% poor
  • 60% middle class

Figure 11 : Comparative Profiles of Sectarian Terrorists / DJEs involved in Terrorism19

Analysis of the Comparative Profiles of Sectarian Terrorists / DJEs involved in Terrorism

An analysis of the data presented in the above table leads one to the following salient conclusions regarding each of the five characteristics / attributes that have been taken into consideration.

Age. While the average age for both Shia and Sunni sectarian militants is the same, interestingly, 14% of the Sunni terrorists are below 20 years of age while none of the Shia terrorists are less than 20 years of age. In the case of the DJEs, however, the average age bracket starts at 15 years and indicates that the average individual involved with the DJEs is younger in age than the sectarian militants.

Education. While the general education level for Shia and Sunni individuals involved in sectarian terrorism is essentially the same (39% vs 36% being educated till Matriculation level or below), the following two significant differences do emerge between the adherents of the two sects:-

    As much as 30% of the Shias involved in acts of sectarian terrorism were illiterate as compared with 19% of the Sunni terrorists and 7% of the DJEs.

    While none of the Shia terrorists had ever attended a religious madrassa, fully one-third or 33% of the Sunni terrorists had been exposed to Madrassa schooling. This could mean either of two things; Sunni madrassas are imparting a significantly militancy oriented system of religious education based on exploiting the sectarian differences and divide and / or Shia militancy, though not a product of madrassas, is being developed and encouraged in Shia society and homes – in non-madrassa environments. Another interesting inference that can be drawn from the data is that not only are the Sunni sectarian terrorists appreciably younger in age but that a significant number of them have been exposed to Madrassa education. An analysis of the linkage between the average age and the exposure to Madrassa education could afford an interesting area of further research and study. Also, the fact that 14% of the DJEs have attended Madrassas is indicative of a linkage between the age and exposure to Madrassa education.

    Another significant conclusion regarding the education profile of the terrorists is the difference in the level of education of the sectarian terrorists and those that belong to the DJEs. While 36-39% of the Shia and Sunni militants have a schooling of Matric or less, the same percentage goes up to as high a figure as 79% in the case of the DJEs. This indicates that as compared with the sectarian militants, the DJEs have been exposed to much lower levels of formal education.

    Another very startling revelation that emerged from the interrogation of the arrested terrorists was the aspect of their educational background and its impact on their militancy potential. Unlike the commonly held belief that madrassa graduates would be the more efficient and ruthless terrorists, the reality was exactly the opposite. Testimony of apprehended terrorist leaders indicate that due to their education in religious issues, madrassa graduates were far more prone to express their reservation on the correctness / legality of any terrorist act. In most cases, they would even quote from the Holy Quran and the Hadith to prove their point. This, however, was not the case with those terrorists who had been educated in the secular schools since these individuals lacked knowledge about Islam’s basic teachings and as such were much more amenable to getting involved in ruthless acts of terrorism.20

Weapons Training. Since the predominantly Sunni Taliban belonged to the Deoband School, it stands to reason that a vast majority of the Sunni sectarian terrorists in Pakistan obtained their military training abroad (in Afghanistan) while the Shia sectarian militants were were all trained within Pakistan. This data is further corroborated by the fact that 100% of the DJEs (all belonging to the Sunni Deobandi school of religious thought) have also been imparted military training abroad (in Afghanistan).

Motivation. Testimonies of the interrogated sectarian terrorists went a long way in proving the high degree of effectiveness of the propaganda and training material that was made available to the youth by the sectarian groups. The vulnerability of the youth to these fanatical teachings is also contributed to by their age and relative immaturity of thoughts. On the Shia side, the reaction to the acts of violence committed against the Shia community by the Sunni terrorists have also served to motivate them to undertake retaliatory acts of terrorism against the Sunni community. The high degree of conviction and belief possessed by the DJEs has been apparent during their interrogations wherein they have come across as being very sure of themselves and have not hesitated in the least from coming out with all the facts without any sense of fear / apprehension / remorse at their acts.

In the case of the DJEs, however, the motivation is radically different from those factors that have served to motivate the sectarian terrorists. Since the emergence of the DJEs is essentially an outcome of the post – 9/11 events and the US sponsored invasion of Afghanistan, the elements of motivation for these elements are based more on anti-US sentiments and feelings than on other factors. Other than the overt anti-US posture adopted by the DJEs, these groups / individuals have also exhibited a pronounced anti-Muslim states posture especially against those Muslim countries such as Pakistan who are generally perceived to have fallen in line with the anti-Muslim policy of the US and her allies. Reports suggest that the number of DJEs that have crossed over from Afghanistan into Pakistan number around 10,000 individuals. These are a part of the over 100,000 to 200,000 Jehadis who were imparted military training in Afghanistan since 197921. It is also estimated that over 35000 foreigners obtained military training under the Taliban in Afghanistan and since these individuals are not able to legally return to their own countries due obvious reasons, some of them have also crossed over into Pakistan and have joined the religious groups and parties that were earlier supporting them during the Afghan struggle for independence. One of the recently unearthed incident involving DJEs pertained to four so-called instructors of Pakistani origin who were managing Taleban training camps inside Afghanistan for the past several years. Being mutually acquainted and also knowing several of their erstwhile trainees, four such ‘instructors’ got together after returning to Pakistan and decided to launch a campaign of terror to destabilize the Pakistani government as a punishment for the co-operation that it extended to the US and the Coalition forces during their attack against Afghanistan. Two such ‘instructors’ or ‘Ustaads’ were Atique alias Abdullah and Saif-ur-Rehman alias Saifi – both members of the Jaish Muhammad (JM)splinter group. While the former was assigned the responsibility for planning and executing acts of terrorism in Southern Punjab, the latter was made responsible for the Northern part of the province. The group headed by Saifi was ultimately responsible for the acts of terrorism committed against the churches and Christian community in Islamabad, Murree and Taxila while Atique’s group engineered the attack on the church in Bahawalpur town. During interrogation, the following profile of Saif-ur-Rehman alias Saifi emerged:-

    Age: 26/27 years

    Education: Matriculation / C. Com

    Profession: Salesman in brother’s book shop

    Joined Harkat-ul-Ansar in 1995 and Jaish Muhammad in 2000

    Employed on Instructional duties in Afghanistan training camps

    Commanded group of 350 Pakistani mujahideen on Kunduz front

    Created a splinter group after the fall of Taleban, in association with other instructors / acquaintances

    Got together with Atique and two other instructors to undertake acts of terrorism in Pakistan as a sign of protest against Pakistan’s support to the anti-Taliban US and coalition forces.

The influx of the DJEs into Pakistan has changed the terrorism situation in the following manner:-

    The DJEs have generally opted to attack a relatively new category of targets consisting of foreigners, Christians and government personalities.

    DJEs have brought in the modus operandi of suicide bombing to Pakistan.

    The overt support of Musharraf’s government for the US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan has created a soft corner for the DJEs amongst the rural Pakistani populace

Up until now, the following DJE groups have been identified and tracked down:-

    Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al Alami in Karachi. Twenty five members of this group have been arrested so far while another ten are known to be absconding.

    Jaish Muhammad (JM) in Punjab. Five members of the JM have been killed so far and 15 arrested while four known members of this outfit are still at large.

Family Background. While the data does suggest that financial family background did play a role in the recruitment of the militant sectarian groups, there is a significant difference between the background of the Shia and the Sunni terrorists. Whereas 60% of the Shia terrorists hailed from poor families, a percentage as high as 85% of the Sunni terrorists came from a poor family background. This data does indicate a possible linkage between socio-economic conditions and sectarian terrorism. When co-related with the fact that 33% of the Sunni militants had studied in Madrassas, the linkage between poverty and madrassas can also be discerned.

Once again we find the profile of the typical DJE being pronouncedly different from those of the sectarian terrorists. Whereas the majority of the Shia and Sunni terrorists hail from poor families, the same is not true in the case of the DJEs since a majority of the latter are known to belong to middle class and not poor families.

Effectiveness of Law Enforcing Apparatus / Judiciary in Tackling Terrorism.

The functioning and effectiveness of the criminal justice system has emerged as one of the major bottlenecks in tackling terrorism and terrorists. In tackling terrorism, the functioning of the Judiciary is of paramount importance. One of the major failings of the anti-terrorism campaign in Pakistan has been the indifference of the Judiciary in deciding on cases of terrorism. Probably out of fear of backlash by the terrorists against themselves and their family members, judges have been generally reluctant in hearing cases of terrorism. This apathy on the part of the judiciary has led to a large number of acquittals with very few terrorist suspects getting convicted. The following data proves this point without any doubt:

          Year Arrested Convicted Acquitted
          2001 131 16 115
          2002 142 22 120
          2003 60 00 60

Figure 12 : Ineffectiveness of Judiciary in Tackling Terrorism

The performance of the law enforcing agencies, specifically the investigative arm of the Police, can be gauged from the following data regarding acts of sectarianism terrorism that took place within the jurisdiction of the Punjab province in the ten year period between 1992-2001.

    Figure 13 : Acts of Sectarian Terrorism in Punjab 1992-200122
    Total Cases 339
    Deaths due terrorism acts 692
    Cases detected 270 80%
    Terrorists arrested 1021
    Terrorists convicted 140 13.7% convictions
    • 72 – death penalty
    • 51 – Life imprisonment
    • 17 – Other punishment
    Terrorists acquitted 470 46%
    Terrorists killed 34
    Police casualties (deaths) 64
    Terrorists at large (not apprehended) 124

The above data highlights one of the major loop-holes in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy which needs to be corrected at the earliest since without the deterrence potential of a strong judiciary that can pass the strongest possible sentence and punishment to the guilty, no counter-terrorism campaign can be expected to succeed.


As is apparent from the preceding data and text included in this article, the menace of terrorism confronting Pakistan has, and is continuing to experience a change. In the time to come, it can be expected that the primary terrorist threats to the internal stability of Pakistan would be emanating either from the domestic sectarian militants and / or from the remnants of the Dissident Jehadi Elements (DJEs) who have managed to escape the coalition gauntlet and have succeeded in crossing over from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

In order to be able to effectively counter this expected terrorist threat, the Government of Pakistan must study all the aspects of the threat in totality so that an effective strategy to combat this menace can then be evolved and effectively implemented. Such an anti-terrorist strategy must be based on the following essential elements:-

    The Government must demonstrate strong political will to tackle the menace of terrorism.

    A dedicated and specialized Counter-Terrorism Force be established at the national level. This elite organization must be provided with all the required manpower and technical / weapon resources that would enable it to effectively counter all types of terrorist threats.

    A National Task Force for Counter-Terrorism must be established and given the mandate to develop a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy based on the following objectives:


      Endeavour to promote a culture of tolerance

      Ensure zero tolerance of objectionable literature and speeches

      Regulate activities of religious schools / madrassas

        Enforce strict ban on militant Jehadi and sectarian organizations

        Measures to rehabilitate DJEs

        Take measures to ensure return / repatriation of foreign DJEs


        Undertake necessary measures for hardening of all likely terrorist targets.

        Implement plans to improve governance / provision of justice so as to reduce dissatisfaction.

        Improve intelligence collection, collation, analysis and dissemination capability of the law enforcing apparatus, especially the CID.

        Develop framework to pro-actively cater to external factors.

        Improve the technical monitoring capability of the law enforcing agencies assigned counter-terrorism responsibilities.

        Work out a workable exit strategy for the terrorists.

        Undertake measures to marginalize / neutralize the support network that the terrorists are forced to rely upon.

        Implement a de-weaponization programme at the national level.


        Considering the unpredictability and surprise with which terrorists can strike, the counter-terrorism force must be maintained at a high state of alert which would enable it to spring into action with the shortest of delays.

        In order to be able to mount a timely and immediate response, regular appraisal and assessment of the threat must be conducted. These appraisals must also consider the adequacy of own capability to meet the terrorist threat.

    Effective Response

        The counter-terrorism agencies involved in mounting the initial response must be clearly identified and suitable prepared and groomed.

        An effective liaison mechanism must be established to integrate the entire spectrum of counter-terrorism activities.

Terrorism is such an unpredictable phenomenon and terrorists are such unknown entities that accurate prediction of impending acts of terrorism is extremely difficult. That is why counter-terrorism is always a reactive or an after-the-fact response to an act of terrorism. In order to make the counter-terrorism campaign proactive or preventive in character, it is imperative that the recommendations listed above be seriously looked into and all those found worth implementing be put in place without any more loss of time.

Tariq M. Ashraf can be contacted at t.ashraf"at"

Vision Without Glasses


Anonymous said...

A very nicely researched article . Congratulations

somaie said...

The article was worth reading. Thank you.

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