Poverty, Basic Needs, and Political Violence: Insights into the Social Context of Terrorism from Pakistan's Northwestern Tribal Areas



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This dissertation uses the theoretical framework of basic needs to operationalize the concept of poverty and investigates whether it was a factor in motivating support for terrorist groups in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas. The dissertation relies on secondary survey data to build a Bayesian network model that depicts the social context of the region and supplements insights from the model with logistic regression. The results indicate that support for terrorist groups in the tribal belt was mainly fueled by variables such as ideology and the effectiveness of the groups’ justice system. Contrary to conventional wisdom, deprivation in at least two components of basic needs, physiological and safety, depressed rather than encourage the trend. The dissertation explains the findings by using a systems theoretic perspective that allows analyzing human motivations within layers of external environment including the micro-system comprising of, for instance, immediate family and neighborhood, and the larger exosystem such as state institutions and policies. From this perspective, organized acts of political violence may be visualized as rebellion against the exosystem or other higher-level systems. The rebellion could aspire to create conditions in which needs, whether basic or higher, are better satisfied. However, it is possible that the aspiration is not steered by some actual need deprivation but only by a perception of needs or by some utopian vision of society. If that is the case, it is also quite likely that poor people being more vulnerable to any degeneration in the physical environment may be less supportive of groups or activities that disrupt it.