June 4, 2010: The recent attack on two mosques, in Lahore, Pakistan, is yet another incident of religious violence in an area that has suffered such atrocities for decades. The British kept this sort of thing under control, but once they left in 1947, the new government of Pakistan was less able to control the sectarian violence than their neighbor India. The Lahore attacks killed nearly a hundred, bringing the 2010 total to about 230. For all of last year, 190 died in Pakistani sectarian violence. That was part of a decline from the 2007 high of 441. The total for 2010 is headed for more than 500 dead.
India is, by world standards, a pretty peaceful place. With more than five times the population of Pakistan, it has less sectarian violence. But people killing each other over religion isn't the only kind of violence Pakistan has to worry about. While the Taliban get most of the media attention, they are but one of several religious conflicts going on in Pakistan. In addition, there is tribal and ethnic violence. From the Pakistani point of view, al Qaeda and the Taliban are just the latest source of religious violence to show up. Terrorism based on religious, or tribal, hatreds is old news in this part of the world, and all these other, underreported, conflicts are connected with the Taliban violence. That's because the most violent zealots tend to get involved in more than one cause, or at least have connections with other violent groups. To put this into perspective, here are the principal sources of religious, ethnic and tribal violence in Pakistan;
- Sunni versus Shia. The Shia Moslems are a 20 percent minority, and there are several radical Shia and Sunni groups that have been killing each other for decades. In addition, Sunni Baluchi tribesmen in the southwest have long been at war with Iranian Shia across the border. Not open warfare, but steady terrorism. Government efforts to stop the Sunni-Shia violence have not been entirely successful, which puts the failure to shut down the Pakistani Taliban into perspective.
- Sunni (77 percent of the population) versus Christians and Hindus (each about 1.5 percent of the population). The Christians, in particular, are a popular target, because more Pakistanis are attracted to Christianity and are converting. This is considered a grave sin by Islamic radicals. The Hindus keep their heads down, but get attacked anyway.
-Sunni versus Sunni. There are several different sects within the Sunni Moslem community, and some of these are violently opposed to each other. There are hundreds of casualties a year from this violence.
- Tribal feuds- Many of the Pushtun and Baluchi tribes don't get along with each other, and the disputes are often very violent. Attempts by the army or police to break up these private wars often results in both tribes turning on the security forces.
- Ethnic violence. Put simply, the Pushtun tribes (15 percent of the population, in the north and east, along the Afghan border) and the Baluchi tribes (four percent, in the southwest) do not get along with the majority Punjabis (45 percent of the population) or Sindhis (14 percent) in the eastern lowlands. The resulting violence has been going for over a thousand years. This is particularly important when it comes to getting the Pakistani army to take down the Taliban. The Pushtun tribesmen, who run the Taliban and contribute most of the manpower, are, well, feared by the lowlanders. For thousands of years, the tribes periodically came out of the hills to raid the wealthier and more numerous lowlanders. However, the larger population meant that the Punjabis and Sindhis would eventually chase the tribesmen back into the hills. But the lowlanders also found, time and again, that the tribal warriors were even more formidable, and nastier, when you fought them in their own element. Today, there's another factor. The warlike tribesmen like to make the military their career. They make great soldiers, and over 20 percent of the troops are Pushtun or Baluchi. That creates loyalty and reliability problems when you order the army to break up the Taliban. Most tribal soldiers don't agree with the Taliban, but some are reluctant to make war on their own tribes. So far, this has not been a problem, but the potential remains.
- The war in Kashmir. India and Pakistan have been fighting over who should control the border province of Kashmir for over fifty years. Pakistan lost two wars over the issue (India occupies most of Kashmir), and two decades ago Pakistan decided to support Islamic terrorist groups dedicated to driving the Indians out of Kashmir. This campaign has failed, although the violence continues. The Islamic radical groups are out of control (of the Pakistanis) because of the nationalism issue (most Pakistanis want Pakistan to control all of Kashmir). Shutting down the terrorist training camps in Pakistani controlled Kashmir is political dynamite, and no Pakistani politician has dared try it, yet. But peace won't happen between India and Pakistan until the Kashmiri Islamic terrorist groups are shut down.
- Gangsters and Bandits. Crime is big business in Pakistan, what with all the corruption and guns. There are dozens of major gangs, and hundreds of smaller ones. For our purposes, the most significant gangs are the ones smuggling drugs, and other goods, into Iran and Afghanistan. These guys go armed and ready to fight it out with the border police.
While India has many of the same problems, they are not as extensive or as out-of-control as they are in Pakistan. A major reason for this is the greater degree of corruption in Pakistan, and the years of official support for Islamic terrorism. That support has now been largely withdrawn, because the Islamic radicals turned on the Pakistani government. Now the Pakistanis are at war with their Islamic terrorists. Even if they defeat them, there are plenty of other rambunctious groups left to keep things jumping.