April 4, 2009: Religious violence in Pakistan has killed over 14,000 there in the past six years. Most of these deaths have occurred in the tribal territories along the Afghan border. Some 47 percent of the dead were terrorists (Taliban and al Qaeda), while 39 percent were civilians (most killed by terrorists). The remaining 14 percent of the dead were security personnel. The Taliban and al Qaeda believe they are on a Mission From God to bring Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the world under Islamic control. Thousands of Pakistanis are willing to die to achieve this, and kill anyone who gets in their way. This has produced a massive civil disorder problem for Pakistan.
In the last year, Pakistan has sent 120,000 troops into the Pushtun tribal territories. Under pressure from the NATO countries fighting the Taliban and drug gangs in Afghanistan, Pakistan has steadily increased its efforts against these tribes, many of them openly allied with the Taliban cause. This violence increased sharply when a civilian government took over from the military dictatorship, that had been running the country for the last decade, last August. The military government, was more willing to try to work out deals with the Islamic radicals. Earlier military governments had encouraged the religious zealots, a policy that did not work out very well.
In response to the army invasion, the terrorists are trying to move their operations into the non-tribal, and more populous, provinces of Punjab and Sind. There are many Islamic conservatives in this, the Pakistani heartland (in terms of population, culture and the economy), but there are even more people who oppose Islamic terrorism. There are police (corrupt, but fairly efficient, especially if most of the population is cooperating) who have proved effective against terrorists. Al Qaeda has suffered heavy losses in this heartland, even where terrorists were hiding out in strongly pro-Islamic neighborhoods. It only takes one anti-terrorist local with a cell phone to blow the cover.
The most common source of violence in the heartland has been sectarian violence. Sunni and Shia extremists kill each other, and everyone abuses Christians and Hindus (minorities the state tries to protect.) This violence has been increasing. There were 247 sectarian related deaths in 2002. That jumped to 619 in 2004 and peaked at 630 in 2007. There were 505 such deaths last year. This year, it looks like there could be 800 or more. The increase was partly related to the growth of al Qaeda, which is the most violent Sunni extremist group to come along in some time. Each death creates a desire for revenge, and the high death toll over the last few years will reverberate for a few more years.
Pakistan has lived with this sectarian violence long before the nation of Pakistan was created out of British India 60 years ago. The increase in violence is largely the result of Islamic conservatism being spread by Islamic charities and missionary efforts paid for by Persian Gulf Arab oil wealth. While these Islamic education efforts do not directly preach terrorism, they do advocate a much more conservative form of Islam, and aggression against any non-Islamic religious practices. This includes, increasingly, lethal violence against Moslems who do not practice the same form of conservative (Wahabbi) Islam advocated by the Persian Gulf Arabs. Thus Shia, other Islamic sects, and non-Moslems, are subject to more lethal attacks. These groups often return the violence, and the death toll keeps rising.