Politicians facing violence

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On September 16, 2020, a report on “Political violence incidents steadily decreasing” appeared in this newspaper covering a study of Dr. Ali Hasnain of the Lahore University of Management Sciences that he had shared with his colleagues from LUMS and University of California. The subject drew my attention as it claimed to be a data-driven study. What I found after going through it was a bit opposite of it. One of the possible reasons of this outcome may be attributable to the way the reporter might have covered this event. As Dr. Ali Hasnain remained silent, I assume he was in agreement with what was reported. So,I feel it necessary to share my views to let the readers understand what led me find the report unsatisfactory.
First of all, please allow me to submit a brief summary of Dr. Ali Hasnain’s report. The report claims to have collected a huge database from Pakistani English newspapers since 1999 and madeuse ofit for the report he prepared. As reported, the presenter provided a comprehensive geographical distribution of political violence incidents and associated causalities in the country between 2002 to 2019.Sind and central and northern Punjab were found to have been the highly affected regions of the country that had heavily suffered political violence. From 2014 onward the political violencewas found on the declining trend.
Surprisingly, no figure was shared in the whole report to quantify the claims made in the report and no comparative data was provided to define the peaksand lows of political violence incidents. The title of the report is also out of synch with the ground realities because what it considers to be the political violence it is, in fact, acts of militancy. In Pakistan, political violence has multiple dimensions and, in most of the cases, it is not a rivalry of one political party against the other; it is rather a peculiar form of violence that keeps taking different shapes and forms based on the circumstances. An act of violence that appears to have been driven by sectarian hatred can simultaneously be categorized as political violence because of the victims and the perpetrators of violence. Karachi was once a battle ground of such a multi-dimensional violence.
As a Research Analyst of the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), I have been maintaining a comprehensive database on violence since 2013. A review of the data from 2013 to May 2020 reveals 3,134 activists belonging to different political and religious parties had been the victims of multiple forms of violence that left 1475 of them dead and 1659 injured. Among them the victims of political rivalry were 750 only (383 dead and 367 injured). So, what about the remaining victims of violence?What was the reason for them to become target of violence and who were really behind them?
Dr. Ali Hasnain’s report makes no distinction between acts of terrorism and political violence. The political and religious parties are also treated equally though the causes of violence against each of them differ significantly. While some political parties faced publicly announced threats from the banned militant outfit, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), no religious party ever faced such a threat though one of the religious parties did suffer from unannounced terror attacks against them.
It was the election period of 2013, when TTP, for unknown reasons, had announced that three political parties – ANP, PPP, and MQM – will be target of its attacks. TTP,as we all know, was never a political contestant during any election. What motivated them for launching such a drive against these political parties was a most surprising subject for analysts as they couldn’t fathom any reason other than the ideological differences the militant outfit had against these parties to make such an announcement.
TTP remained committed to its announcement and during 2013 election campaigns and the worst affected of violence were the same political parties that were included in the hit list of TTP. MQM lost 209 activists, ANP lost 98, and PPP lost 34 activists during 2013. The other two mainstream political parties, PMLN and PTI had also lost 15 and 19 persons respectivelybut majority of those incidents were not related to the militancy. TTP claimed responsibility for the fatality of 35 activists of ANP, and 14 of MQM. Surprisingly, nobody claimed responsibility for the fatalities of PPP and PMLN activists. Most of the members of PTI who lost their lives in violence were independent candidates and they had joined PTI after winning the election. In a suicide attack, ten persons including the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister IsrarullahGandapurwhen the minister was meeting visitors at his traditional village in Kulachi. Imran Mohmand and Fareed Khan were the other two independent candidates who had lost their lives after joining PTI.
On the other hand, the loss of religious parties was not as high as of political parties during the election year of 2013. There were 123 fatalities of religious party activists compared to 477 fatalities recorded by the political parties. Ahl-e-Sunnat-wal- Jamaat (ASWJ), Sunni Tehreek (ST), Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam Fazal group (JUIF) andJamat-e-Islami (JI) were the four religious parties who had lost 105 activists in target killings during 2013 but none of them with the exception of JUIF suffered terror attacks that left 36 activists dead. TTP claimed responsibility for this attack on JUIF but there was no prior announcement of such a target.
Although the report of Dr. Ali Hasnain claims a significant decline in political violence from 2014 onward, my findings are contrary to it. My data shows that the casualties of political and religious party activists went up to 1489 persons in 2013 and it gradually declined to 123 by 2017. In 2018, it jumped up again as the election campaign went into full swing. As many as 629 casualties were recorded during the year 2018 that came down to 66 in 2019.Once again, themilitants became activeand started theiroperations that wereno different from their operationsof 2013. While ANP was still on their target (lost 22 activists in attacks that were claimed by TTP), the other political parties that came under their attacks were BalochistanAwami Party (BAP) and PushtunTahaffuz Movement (PTM). Both of these parties lost 149 (claimed by IS) and 3 persons respectively in terror attacks. Religious parties, on the other hand, lost only 15 activists during 2018 election period and majority of them belonged to ASWJ, JI, and JUIF. All of them were victims of target killings and no militant organization claimed responsibility for any of these killings.
The only finding of Dr. Ali Hasnain that comes close to my finding is the identification of Sindh as the province highly affected of violence against politicians. From 2013 to May 2020, Sindh had recorded 800 fatalities of politicians, followed by KP including FATA (299) Balochistan (276), Punjab (91), Islamabad (8), and AJK (1). Punjab, contrary to Dr. Ali Hasnain’s findings, is found to have been least affected of violence against politician during this period. The reason is quite obvious. The wave of terrorism that has been continuing in this country for about two decades is more entrenched in regions like KP including FATA and Balochistan because of its historical background.
Based on my data, the spike and decline in political violence are more linked to the terrorism than the political rivalry. On whose agenda did the militants carry out their operations against the selected political parties, is a question that remains a mystery with exception of an undeniable fact; the beneficiaries of these attacks were those political parties who won the election. Did these winners feel any kind of obligation towards these militants and in return offer them any favors as an acknowledgement of their indirect support?
A most intriguing question that cannot be verified by any evidence. Other than all these complications and implications, the political violence in the country is more related with the existence of militancy than the political rivalry. Now that the militants are busy in the neighboring country and the next elections are not due before 2023, any escalation in political violence doesn’t seem to be a possibility for the next three years.