Measuring Political Violence in Pakistan: Insights from the BFRS Dataset
This article presents the BFRS Political Violence in Pakistan dataset addressing its design, collection, and utility. BFRS codes a broad range of information on 28,731 incidents of political violence from January 1, 1988 through May 2011. For each incident we record the location, consequences, cause, type of violence, and party responsible as specifically as possible. These are the first data to systematically record all different kinds of political violence in a country for such an extended period, including riots, violent political demonstrations, terrorism, and state violence, as well as asymmetric and symmetric insurgent violence. Similar datasets from other countries tend to focus on one kind of violence—e.g. ethnic riots, terrorism, or combat—and therefore do not allow scholars to study how different forms of violence interact or to account for tactical and strategic substitution between methods of contestation. To demonstrate the utility of the dataset, we apply it to two questions. First, we examine how patterns of tactical substitution vary over time and space in Pakistan, showing they differ dramatically, and discuss implications for the study of political violence more broadly. Second, we show how these data can help illuminate ongoing debates in Pakistan about the causes of the increase in violence in the last ten years. Both applications demonstrate the value of disaggregating violence within countries and are illustrative of the potential uses of these data.