Why is Pakistan so vulnerable to mob rule?

  • 8 Nov 2018

Street power is often used as a tool to pressure Pakistani governments to the extent that the state often loses the ability to protect its citizens.

Demonstrators set ablaze more than 100 houses of Pakistani Christians during a protest over alleged blasphemous remarks by member of the minority community. ( AFP Archive )

Major cities in Pakistan were brought to a standstill last week on Wednesday after hardline religious took to the streets to protest against the decision of the country's top court to overturn the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been in prison since 2010 over blasphemy allegations.

One of the most vocal groups in the protests - the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party - called for "mutiny" against the army's top brass and the assassination of the top court's justices.

After two more days of protests that had turned violent and brought the country’s major cities to a standstill, the government agreed a deal with religious groups to impose a travel ban on Bibi, and not to challenge a review of the Supreme Court's ruling.

This is not the first time and appears unlikely to be the last that violent street protests and agitation have been used as a tool to pressure the government into agreeing to demands or to express the outrage of a segment of society by holding a another segment hostage in the country.

The Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government declared the then-Ahmadi sect of Muslims as non-Muslims on September 7, 1974, after violent protests by the Jamaat-i-Islami and other religious parties earlier in May and June of the same year.

The frequency of the mob mentality wreaking havoc has gained momentum in recent years.

One common factor in many of these incidents is the lack of action by law enforcement officials and the absence of the writ of the state.

Pakistani Rangers cordon off an area during a search operation in Karachi on June 17, 2014(AFP Archive)

Although most of the examples of mob rule have been driven by religious or sectarian issues, political motives have also been cited as a cause.

Authorities usually block mobile phone access and instruct news channels to tone down their coverage of these incidents.

Here, we take a look at the major incidents when the authorities have failed to control a rampaging mob.

November 2017

At least six people were killed and more than 200 injured after police moved in to break up "blasphemy" protests called by the TLP. They were staged in response to the then-government initiating a change to electoral laws that altered the wording of an oath sworn by lawmakers.

A protester walks near burning tents during clashes with police at Faizabad junction in Islamabad, Pakistan November 25, 2017.(AFP Archive)

The protests were called off after the military intervened for mediation.

April 2017

A mob lynched a student, Mashal Khan, to death at his university campus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's Mardan district after he was accused of sharing blasphemous content on social media. The blasphemy allegations were found false during later investigations.

November 2015

A crowd incensed by rumours and announcements made by local mosques in Punjab's Jhelum district set a factory alight over blasphemy allegations against the factory owner and it pre-dominantly Ahmadi workers. No casualties were reported from the arson attack.

The Pakistan Army was later called in to handle the situation after an Ahmadi place of worship was later targeted by an enraged mob in the same district. A police cordon that had been placed around the Ahmadi's place of worship had made no difference to the mob.

March 15 2015

Outraged by deadly suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore's Youhanabad area, a mob lynched two people who they considered as suspects. The bodies were later hacked and burnt.

Policemen look on as outraged members of Pakistan's minority Christian community set fire to a cart during a protest following suicide bomb attacks on churches in Lahore, on March 15, 2015(AFP Archive)

An investigation later found the two men who were lynched to be innocent bystanders.  

November 2014

In another case, a mob beat a Christian couple to death and burned their bodies after falsely accusing them of desecrating a Quran in Punjab province.

July 28 2014

A crowd of around 150 people killed three Ahmadi women, including two minors, and severely wounded eight others in Punjab's Gujranwala district over an alleged blasphemous Facebook post.

The mob also torched several cars, five houses and a storage building.

November 2013

At least eight people were killed and more than 40 injured during communal clashes that occurred while an Ashura procession by one sect was passing by a mosque belonging to another sect.

Members of opposing sects hurl rocks at each other during communal clashes in Pakistan's Rawalpindi city in November 2013.(AFP Archive)

Authorities imposed a curfew in the city and called in the army after a cloth market in the Raja Bazaar area of Rawalpindi was set on fire during the clashes that also saw members of rival groups open fire and pelt each other with stones.

March 9 2013

A mob of around 7,000 burnt down 160 houses, 18 shops and two churches located in Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore's Badami Bagh area over allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man.

Police was forced to register a blasphemy case to placate the mob, according to a local police official. Several people and policemen were injured in the clashes that ensued.

Rioteers engage in arson in the pre-dominantly Christian Joseph Colony neighbourhood in Lahore's Badami Bagh area in March 2013.(Reuters Archive)

The area resident had fled the neighbourhood after a tip-off from police officials about a possible attack. An investigation later found that the blasphemy charges were the result of quarrel between the accused and the complainant who were friends. 

December 2012

A crowd of around 1,000 people stormed a police station in the Sindh province's Dadu district and beat to death a 35-year-old man, who was detained in police station over a case related to the desecration of the Quran.

The mob later burned the man's body.

September 21 2012

At least 19 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes between police and people protesting the release of a privately produced anti-Islam film in the US.

Thousands of people took to the streets in major cities including Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar and torched several vehicles, half a dozen cinemas and two bank branches.

July 2012

A man, who was believed to be mentally unstable, was accused of blasphemy and later taken out of a police station and burnt alive by a mob in the Bahawalpur district of Punjab province.

August 30 2009

At least eight members of Pakistan's Christian minority community, including four women and a child, were killed when a mob went out on a rampage in Gojra, a tehsil in Punjab province's Toba Tek Singh district.

Pakistani Christians hold a demonstrations to protest against attacks on their community.(AP Archive)

A mob of around 800 unidentified men, who were enraged over the unsubstantiated allegations that some Christians had desecrated the Quran, burnt down 40 houses belonging to the minority community members.

December 27 2007

Pakistan descended into chaos with rioting across the country for three days following the assassination of Pakistan Peoples Party leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto was leaving the venue of an election rally in Rawalpindi when she was killed in a gun and bomb attack believed to have been carried out by a Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan militant.

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers patrolled in Karachi a day after former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi.(AFP Archive)

At least 31 people, including four policemen were killed and dozens wounded. Dozens of banks and offices were set on fire and hundreds of vehicles were also torched across the country. 

May 12 2007

At least 45 people were killed and more than 140 wounded as carnage ensued in Karachi over a show of strength by military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and his allies the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, to counter the visit of the then-deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary.

May 30 2005

At least 11 people were killed at riots following a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Karachi, Pakistan.

Those who lost their lives included six people who were killed after a KFC restaurant in the port city was set on fire by a protesting mob.


Hafiz Farooq Sajjad was beaten by a mob that had gathered outside his house after a Quran in his house caught fire and a local mosque announced that a Christian had burned the Quran.

Police came and took him into custody. However, the mob reached the police station after Sajjad, a Muslim, was taken into custody and pelted the accused with stones before setting him on fire.

The police left the scene after the mob overran the station.