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Secular Party Rule and Religious Violence in Pakistan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 November 2017

University of California, Berkeley
University at Albany-State University of New York
Gareth Nellis is the Evidence in Governance and Politics Postdoctoral fellow, Institute of Governmental Studies, Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA (
Niloufer Siddiqui is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York, 135 Western Avenue, Albany, NY 12222, USA (


Does secular party incumbency affect religious violence? Existing theory is ambiguous. On the one hand, religiously motivated militants might target areas that vote secularists into office. On the other hand, secular party politicians, reliant on the support of violence-hit communities, may face powerful electoral incentives to quell attacks. Candidates bent on preventing bloodshed might also sort into such parties. To adjudicate these claims, we combine constituency-level election returns with event data on Islamist and sectarian violence in Pakistan (1988–2011). For identification, we compare districts where secular parties narrowly won or lost elections. We find that secularist rule causes a sizable reduction in local religious conflict. Additional analyses suggest that the result stems from electoral pressures to cater to core party supporters and not from politician selection. The effect is concentrated in regions with denser police presence, highlighting the importance of state capacity for suppressing religious disorder.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2017 

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Our thanks to Rafael Ahlskog, Ahsan Butt, Chris Clary, Asad Liaqat, Steven Rosenzweig, Fredrik Sävje, Mike Weaver, Steven Wilkinson, anonymous reviewers, and participants at the 2017 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, and the 2017 Midwest Political Science Association conference for helpful comments and advice.


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