Where Does Sectarian Violence Occur in Pakistan?

Sectarian violence in Pakistan is seen as a second tier problem by many politicians in Pakistan, partly because most sectarian groups pose no threat to the state, and partly because Shia are not particularly well-loved in Pakistan, which has about four times as many Sunni as Shia. For Americans though it is one of the easiest issues to understand, due to years of reading about sectarian violence in Iraq. I mapped sectarian violence by district in Pakistan since 2010 using the database on the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). SATP ignores violence against Christians and only includes one attack against Hindus, instead focusing on minority sects of Islam. So I separated all of SATP’s sectarian attacks since 2010 by district and mapped them.

The results were somewhat underwhelming. Basically sectarian violence is a major problem in Karachi and Quetta, but rarely occurs elsewhere. Karachi alone accounted for about 55% of all sectarian attacks since 2010, with Quetta accounting for 19%. The remaining 26% was spread pretty uniformly over the rest of Pakistan. Below is the map:

Pakistan Districts by Sectarian Violence

The takeaways are that most of Pakistan sees very low levels of sectarian violence, and two cities see very elevated levels. The real question is why Karachi and Quetta are such problem areas while the rest of Pakistan is mostly free of sectarian conflict. The answer in Karachi could be linked to the generally unstable security situation in the city and the spectacular diversity that ensures contact between different communities. Sectarian groups might be attracted to the Karachi’s lawlessness and plentiful targets. My theory for Quetta’s sectarian violence is that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a nasty sectarian group with deep roots in Pakistan, has been given free rein in northern Balochistan by the TTP. The TTP isn’t particularly interested in Balochistan, so they outsourced their operations there to the LeJ, who have naturally continued their sectarian ways, but now with TTP support. Quetta also has a large community of Shia Hazara refugees from central Afghanistan who are often targeted. In any case, Karachi and Quetta are exceptions to a rule of generally decent relations between Shia and Sunni in Pakistan. In the end, it looks like sectarian violence in Pakistan is not as widespread or serious as I would have expected.

3 thoughts on “Where Does Sectarian Violence Occur in Pakistan?

  1. Very interesting! Why do you think a country like Pakistan, with such a strong military, would allow this kind of sectarian violence to continue? Also, are you differentiating between strictly sectarian violence and terrorist acts against other Pakistanis here?


  2. I think that the military is too focused on India and the Pakistani Taliban to try to tackle sectarian violence. Sectarian groups aren’t enough of a threat to the stability of the state.

    As to your second question, both types are included. In Karachi, much of the violence consists of street clashes between gangs or local militant groups targeting specific members of the Shia community. In Quetta, a lot the sectarian attacks are carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is definitely a terrorist group, and the attacks tend to be on a larger scale, such as this one earlier in the year: http://newsweekpakistan.com/shia-pilgrims-attacked-in-balochistan/.


  3. Hi, just wanted to say thank you for your very informative and clear blog. I’m trying to explain Partition to KS3 students and you have made my life so much easier.


What Do You Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s