In recent years, Pakistan has been especially associated with terrorist activities allegedly motivated by Islam. However, a recent analysis published in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (September) shows that most Pakistanis do not approve of such actions, although those with extreme Salafi views tend to show more understanding of Islamically motivated acts of violence.
Co-authors Karl Kaltenthaler, William J. Miller, Stephen Ceccoli and Ron Gelleny outline the different source of jihadi terrorism in Pakistan: sectarian groups (Sunni jihadis attacking minority groups such as Shi’a and other “heretical” Muslims seen as “unbelievers”); anti-Indian groups (aimed at ending Indian rule in Kashmir and attacking targets in Kashmir and India itself); and Pakistani Taliban (Pakistani Pashtuns sharing the same ethnic background with Taliban and originally reacting to Pakistani military operations to root out Al Qaeda fighters who had found refuge on Pakistani territory).
The proliferation of jihadis (though originally supported in several cases by Pakistani intelligence) has led to a rise of violence in the country, which first targets the Pakistani state. However, it is difficult for Pakistan’s leaders to eradicate the jihadis entirely: for instance, the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence services) relies on them for a proxy war against India in Kashmir, a very popular cause in Pakistan, the authors note. Surveys show that average Pakistanis are concerned about the problem: 79 percent of them rank terrorism as a “very big problem” in their country, nine percent as a “moderate problem”, while only one percent say it is not a problem at all.
This pattern is seen most strongly in cities. Only three percent of Pakistanis believe that Islam sanctions attacks on civilians, while 83 percent say that Islam opposes such actions. Regarding the issue of terrorism in general, 55 percent say that terrorism is never justified, while 7 percent believe it is often justified, 8 percent sometimes justified, and 11 percent rarely justified. When questions are asked about specific targets, there is a low level of support for attacks on civilian targets in general; however, attacks against Indian targets are “often justified” (government institutions, 15 percent; public places, 11 percent; families of Indian military personnel, 13 percent) in the eyes of more Pakistanis than attacks against Pakistani targets such as Shi’a (only 5 percent).
An analysis of the situation shows that support for terrorism is driven by ideas more than by material interests. Mainstream religious Pakistanis are not supportive of terrorism, but extreme Salafis are. The research shows that dislike for secularism and advocacy for a greater role of sharia in society among mainstream Pakistanis are not correlated with a greater support for terrorist activities. Thus, it is not Islamic religiosity itself that shapes attitudes toward terrorism in Pakistan, but specific views on Islam, including extreme Salafi orientations.
(Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Taylor & Francis Group, 325 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106)