NEW DELHI: Conventional wisdom, and the results of surveys with apparent limitations, draw a clear link between religiosity and the support for militancy in Pakistan. The line of reasoning, put crudely, is as follows: Pakistan is a deeply religious society; Pakistan is home to a large number of militant groups; hence, the deep religiosity of the people of Pakistan must translate into a support for militancy. This conventional wisdom has policy implications, for instance, madrassa and education reform coated in the context of “de-Islamicisation”.

This article will demonstrate that personal religiosity is not an adequate indicator for the support of militancy. Using sectarian affiliation and religious intensity, it will examine the support for militancy on two counts: 1) the support for Jihad, and 2) the support for Sharia law. It was conclusively demonstrate that sectarian affiliation and personal religiosity are not an indication for the support for Jihar, and further, that Sharia law itself has more to do with good governance than with support for militancy.

Religious identify and intensity

To assess the personal sectarian beliefs of the respondents, the question posed was: “If a child in your household were to study the memorisation of the Koran or recitation of the Koran, what kind of madrassah or maktab would you send them to?”

This is a relevant question as madrassas and maktabs in Pakistan are founded on religious lines. A majority of respondents (64 percent) said they would prefer Ahl-e-Sunnat, which simply means “Sunni”. Roughly 8 percent each chose sectarian categories of Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahl-e-Hadith, and Deobandism. Barelvis attracted 4.6 percent, and 3.8 percent identified as Shiite. The important observation here is that the largest group identified with Sunni Muslims (Ahl-e-Sunnat) as opposed to more sectarian loyalties. This is relevant as most militant groups are organised on sectarian lines. The respondents’ identification with a specific madrassa/maktab will be used as an indication of their religious identity, in terms of sectarian affiliation, in the cross-tabulation of data.

To assess intensity of religiosity, respondents were asked about their participation in the Dars-e-Koran, or the study of the Koran. A majority (58 percent) said they attended it whereas 42 percent said that they did not. Of those who did attend, 35 percent attended once a day, one in five once a week, one in ten 3-6 times a week and six percent attended once a month.

Conventional wisdom linking support for Jihad to support for militancy

To gauge the support for militancy, respondents were asked about Jihad, based on the fact that all Islamist militant groups operating in and from Pakistan couch their activities as various forms of Jihad and claim that violent jihad is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims. Conventional wisdom would indicate a direct link between personal religiosity and support for jihad, or militant activities.

To assess whether there was a link, respondents were asked whether “Jihad was a personal struggle or a war to protect Muslims?” The plurality, (44.6 percent) indicated that they believed that Jihad was both a personal struggle and a war to protect muslims. Nearly equal number of respondents (one in four) indicated that Jihad is solely a personal struggle or solely a war for protecting the Muslim ummah.
Now, when cross tabulated with personal religiosity, the data should show a) a link between those who identify with specific sectarian groups and the support of Jihad as a war for protection and b) a link between those who attend the Dars-e-Koran more frequently and the support of Jihad as a war for protection.

Interestingly, the cross tabulations show no such link. There was no difference between respondents who identified as Ahl-e-Sunnat or others in terms of their beliefs about jihad. This is all the more relevant given the Taliban’s ties to Deobandism and al Qaeda’s to Wahhabbism. Similarly, measure of religious intensity does not predict variation in support for militarized Jihad, as the cross tabulations found no difference in respondents who attended the Dars-e-Koran and those who didn’t in terms of their beliefs about jihad.

In conclusion, neither sectarian affiliation or intensity of religiosity explains variation in support for militarised Jihad, and hence, support for militancy.

Further, when asked about who has the authority to declare Jihad - a government or non-state actor, the plurality (43 percent) believed that Jihad is the prerogative of the state. 35 percent believed that both government and non-government actors had the right to declare Jihad, and only seven percent thought non-state actors had the exclusive right to do so.

When cross-tabulated with data on Jihad as a military or personal struggle, both groups who believed it was strictly personal or strictly military were more likely to believe only governments can wage Jihad.

Conventional wisdom linking support for Sharia law to support for militancy

In the current Pakistan Government and Taliban peace talks, a key differing point is the imposition of Sharia. The militants have stressed that it is a non-negotiable, whereas the Government has rallied around the writ of the Pakistani constitution. There are various surveys that indicate the high level of support for Sharia law in Pakistan. Conventional wisdom here links the support of Sharia law to the support for militancy.

There is no doubt that Sharia law has widespread support in Pakistan, with 69 percent of respondents stating that Sharia should play either a “much larger role” or a “somewhat larger role”. However, when respondents were asked about what Sharia law would lead to, Sharia emerged as a better indication of lack of justice and levels of corruption than of support for militancy. The vast majority (95 percent) believe that Sharia will provide services, justice, personal security and is free of corruption.

When asked, if there were to be a greater role for Sharia, how much more or less fair would the administration of justice be, a majority (79 percent) believed that the administration of justice would be “a lot more” (41 percent) or a “little more” (38 percent) fair. When asked, if there were to be a greater role for Sharia, how more or less corruption would there be, a majority (70 percent) believed that there would be “a lot less” (39 percent) or a “little less” (31 percent) corruption. This is contrast to 4 percent in total who believed with Sharia, the administration of justice, would be “a little less” or a “lot less,” or the 14 percent in total who felt that corruption would be “a lot more” (6 percent) or “a little more” (8 percent), if Sharia were to be given a greater role.

In conclusion, the support for Sharia is more directly linked to justice and corruption - which itself is located in the response to state failure - than a direct link to the support for militancy, as gauged an understanding of the term determined by the positive attributes that respondents’ overwhelmingly attributed to it. 97 percent felt it provides services, 97 percent felt it is devoid of corruption, 96 percent felt it provides personal security, and 96 percent felt it provides justice through functioning of non-corrupt courts.


This article uses the data sets contained in: Fair, C.C., Malhotra, N., and Shapiro, J.N., (2010), “Islam, Militancy, and Politics in Pakistan: Insights From a National Sample”, Terrorism and Political Violence, 22:495-521, Taylor and Francis Group. These are based on a sample of 6000 Pakistani men and women in the four “normal” provinces of Pakistan - Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan, proportional to their population in urban and rural areas.