A Socioeconomic Profile of Terrorism in Pakistan (Part I: Areas of Origin)

Posted By October 17, 2016 No Comments

This article is the first in a three-part series on terrorism in Pakistan.

Border of Pakistan and Afghanistan

Border of Pakistan and Afghanistan

Pakistan is one of the major victims of, and breeding grounds for, international terrorism in the world today. It is commonly believed that the nuclear armed nation of approximately 180 million people first experienced religiously motivated violence as a consequence of Islamabad’s backing of religious militias, with support from international partners such as the United States and Saudia Arabia, against the Soviet Union during 1980’s in Afghanistan.

Many have traced the origins of Pakistan’s current issue with Islamic extremism to the militants who supported the first Afghan Jihad and later came to be involved in militant activities within Pakistan.  This view about the onslaught of religious militancy is inaccurate as historical evidence suggests that in post-partition time, such violence came to haunt Pakistan’s political landscape right after the creation of the State.[1]  Majlis Ahrar initiated a campaign of hatred and bigotry against Ahmediya community that inspired numerous acts of violence against the latter group.[2]  Thus it is not historically true that it was the first Afghan Jihad that introduced religiously inspired violence in Pakistan, albeit it can be argued that the militancy that mushroomed afterwards was more organized, more militant and made use of advances in technology while harboring international ambitions. In the past 15 years alone, Pakistan has suffered over 30,000 casualties due to violence perpetrated by the religious militants.

Despite experiencing militant tensions over such long span of time, it was the US led operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan that brought unprecedented international attention on militancy in Pakistan. This was for two separate but related reasons. First, the geographical proximity with Afghanistan made Pakistan an indispensable ally and its internal politics a matter of concern in the war efforts.  Second, militants who fled the US-led assault came to find refuge across the border with militants based within Pakistan.  This naturally triggers an interest in investigating facts about the militants of Pakistan. These militants caused substantial human and economic damages and actively participated in international terrorism. This article, therefore, makes use of dataset on militants from Pakistan and offers insights on their background and their areas of origin.


The dataset includes information on 895 most wanted terrorists of Pakistan and provides information on their major traits, educational background and areas of origin. The author developed the dataset by consulting both governmental and private sources of information. The governmental source is the Red Book published by the counter terrorism wing of criminal investigation department of police.  The private sources are the newspapers, particularly Pakistan’s most widely circulated Urdu newspaper Jang, and biographical notes on terrorist published in Imtiaz Gul’s The Most Dangerous Place.[3]

It is pertinent to mention here that these terrorists constitute the upper cadre who are involved in conceiving, planning and operational management of the outfits. These terrorists are distinct from the individual who carry out the actual attacks.

How old are the terrorists?

The average age of these terrorists is 33, putting them in the category of “mature adults”. On the other hand, 26 suicide terrorists who executed attacks in 2007 were aged between 16 and 20.[4] We can expect mature terrorists to have a relatively longer combat experience and higher expertise than the younger ones who carry out the actual attack. We can therefore assume that the terrorists tend to allocate human resources in a cost efficient manner.  The younger terrorists are more agile, impressionable but endowed with lesser amount of essential logistical and technical knowledge than the experienced militants, hence the former’s liquidation in the attack may lead to comparatively lower loss.

“The younger terrorists are more agile, impressionable but endowed with lesser amount of essential logistical and technical knowledge than the experienced militants, hence the former’s liquidation in the attack may lead to comparatively lower loss.”

 width=What is the size of terrorist contribution made by different types of outfits?

Varieties of terrorist outfits proliferate in Pakistan and happen to cooperate with each other on multiple fronts. These can be categorized on the basis of their primary agendas which should be helpful in analyzing the trends in terrorist supply across Pakistan. According to the data, 58 per cent of terrorists belong to outfits whose primary aim is the seizure of Pakistani State. These outfits include such violent groups as Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda (AQ). The sectarian outfits such as Sipah Sahaba of Pakistan (SSP) and Lashker e Jhangvi (LEJ) who primarily target communities such as Shiites, contribute 14 percent of the terrorists.[5] The third largest contribution is terrorists who simultaneously belong to multiple outfits, who make up 13 per cent and are hereafter referred to as Cross Fertilizing terrorist. The outfits fighting in Kashmir contribute 6 percent to the militant sample.[6]

What is the size of terrorist contribution made by subnational regions?

Table 1 shows contributions of four main provinces and the turbulent federally administered tribal areas (FATA) to terrorist sample. When assessed relatively to their respective population, Punjab, the largest province, is found to be making disproportionate contribution to Kashmir and Cross Fertilizing category.  The majority of terrorists belonging to the latter category are militants of sectarian outfits such as LEJ who joined the ranks of TTP and Al Qaeda in war against Pakistani State. Interestingly, as a target of terrorist attacks, Punjab has been more fortunate than the other provinces of Pakistan. For instance, according to South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) data, since 2001 Punjab experienced 8.8 % of all terrorist incidents of Shiite killing as compared to 37.5 %, 25.2, ,15.8 % and 9.6 % shares of Sindh, Baluchistan, Khybar Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and FATA respectively.  FATA and KPK are over represented in case of Anti State terrorists.  As Al Qaeda regrouped itself in FATA after the US led assault on it in Afghanistan, these two regions became the hotbed of Islamist insurgency against the Pakistani State for the latter’s support of war efforts in Afghanistan. Baluchistan has one of the highest relative shares of sectarian terrorists. Violence against Shiite communities such as Quetta based Hazaras intensified in last 15 years with some attacks leading to death toll of close to 100. [7]

“As Al Qaeda regrouped itself in FATA after the US led assault on it in Afghanistan, these two regions became the hotbed of Islamist insurgency against the Pakistani State for the latter’s support of war efforts in Afghanistan.”

Are terrorists’ illiterate?

Contrary to popular perception that terrorists are either illiterate or to have received education in religious seminaries, the data suggests that they are very well likely to have attained education in non religious public educational institutions as well. Almost 79 percent of them are found to have obtained education from non religious, mostly State funded educational institution of Pakistan.  Pakistan’s literacy rate is roughly around 55 percent. When compared with literacy among terrorists, it can be argued that the latter are better educated than average Pakistani. The religious seminaries also make disproportionate contribution to the terrorist sample as approximately 15 percent of the terrorists are found to have attained education from them as compared to national enrollment rate of approximately 2 percent in such institutions.

Further in depth analysis provide additional evidence that challenges the view that terrorists are mostly illiterate individuals. For instance, the national estimate for population to have education level between 1 to 10 grade is 34 percent whereas the corresponding estimate for terrorist sample is 35 percent. Approximately 17 percent of Pakistan’s population has educational attainment at high school level (12th Grade). The figure for terrorist sample for the same level of education is 32 percent. While approximately 23 percent of population has educational attainment higher than high school, the corresponding estimate for terrorist is 30 percent.

It may be pertinent to inquire if anything can be inferred about the economic status of these terrorists based on their educational background. Since education requires resources to fund it especially private education, therefore it is unlikely that these terrorists belong impoverished households. Although public education is quite cheap in Pakistan; it still would not imply that terrorists emerge from impoverished households for simple economic reason. It is common sense that any household would only allocate their member to educational institution if they already maintain stream of income through other members of the family. In extreme hand to mouth economic status, it is unlikely that household would send their member for education instead of working place. Hence, given the higher literacy among terrorists, and the economic reasoning just presented, we can assume that terrorists are unlikely to emerge from impoverished households.

Further, these findings cast serious doubts on views that consider simply extending the access to education as means of countering radicalization. Equally important as ensuring access to it is also the quality of education.  If the curriculum taught in educational institutions promote bigotry against other faiths, glorifies wars and promote conspiratorial thinking, this may lead to more radicalization in the society. The curriculum taught in Pakistani schools has been increasingly criticized on this account.  In view of the space constraint, it may just be pertinent to mention a report published by the title The Subtle Subversion that provides detail anatomy of the curriculum taught in Pakistani schools.[8]  The report outlines text in the curriculum that promotes hatred and prejudices against other faiths and tends to develop violent political sensibilities. Also pertinent to mention is a survey conducted by Pakistan’s eminent linguist, Dr. Tariq Rahman, who found 33 per cent of the students enrolled in Urdu medium schools to approve of supporting violent religious groups for liberating Kashmir from India.[9] In one of our previous study, we also found that since 1980, the spending on education by Pakistan’s government is positively correlated with terrorism even while other important factors are controlled.[10] Therefore, it is essential that if education is to be exploited as a means of countering terrorism, then the curriculum must be so devised as to develop minds which are counter poised to the propaganda of militant organizations.

In part II we find out that whether terrorists are more likely to emerge from socioeconomically depressed regions of Pakistan.