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Sunday, November 26, 2023

Census will allow smaller provinces in Pakistan to get their rightful share of resources

Pakistan has launched its first census after almost 19 years, last one was held in 1998. This is despite the fact that it is mandated in the constitution every ten years. The PML-N government, which received much opprobrium both for not holding it so far; now faces the same for holding it by parties who will lose out. The government brought the military on board as well as the police who will provide security thousands of workers who are involved.

The first phase of the census in 63 districts has begun today, 15 March and it will end on April 15. The second phase will be from 25 April to 25 May. The final results of the census will be provided to officials by the end of July. The census will not include the 6 million pakistanis that are working abroad.

For the first time the census has also been refined to take account of the (1) numbers of transsexual people of the Pakistani community, (2) to consider the multi-ethnic aspects like language of which 9 regional languages will be listed, (3) people will identify religions, (4) to allow the citizens to choose only one nationality,”Pakistan” or “Foreign”.

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This weeks process of the census aims at spreading a team of 300,000 which will hand out 55 million forms with the military also handing out a second form, that will act as a check against fraudulent results, in particular, to stop inflation in numbers.

The politics over the census has meant that since 1998 no government has held it. The population at the time was 135m and is currently estimated at 200 million. Pakistan in 70 years has seen its population spiralling out of control; in the first population census held in Pakistan in 1951, the population was only 34m. All resources allocated to the provinces are done so on the basis of population. In addition, all decisions made within provinces on rural and urban settings have been done so for the past twenty years with absolute no regard to incorporating new realities such as urbanization which has meant that many more people now live in cities. This has meant massive pressure on the city infrastructure and dilapidation of hospitals, roads, sanitation, schools in cities.

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This census if completed – or if political parties allow its completion – will revise the political boundaries, parliamentary seat allocations and the financial aspects of the regions within the country. The implementation of the count will have consequences in the upcoming elections of 2018. Electoral seats in the parliament are assigned using population data, the census will show a decline in rural populations due to urbanization; this has worried the rich and powerful feudal landlords and political families currently sitting in parliament.

Balochis, are worried that increased numbers of Pushtuns in the province will turn them into an even smaller minority and this will affect their inter-provincial resources and political power.

Punjab which has witnessed a fall in population growth will see a small fall in its share of seats and resources on the basis of this census results. On the other hand, Balochistan, will see an increase in resources for two reasons first because the province has not been able to control its population growth rates and because it has seen an influx of Afghan refugees. Many of the Afghan refugees have taken on Pakistani nationality through forged documents and bribery and will be able to take part in the census.

Balochis, are worried that increased numbers of Pushtuns in the province will turn them into an even smaller minority and this will affect their inter-provincial resources and political power. Similar concerns exist in Karachi with the Mohajirs, worried about the increased numbers of Pashtuns in the city after the 9/11, IDPs and thanks to higher population growth rate of Pashtuns versus the urdu speaking people in the city.

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The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) will be deploying 119,000 people with 84,000 acting as the enumerators. These 84,000 men and women will go from one door to the other to count the number of houses and individuals that live within.

The army has also given 200,000 troops for the exercise (a huge number given its deployment on the borders). The troops will also include 44,000 men who will carry out a separate count to ensure that an accurate counting is held.

Asif Bajwa, the PBS’s chief statistician, has explained that the army will simply observe the census counting to ensure the accurate counting of households. Earlier, a Corps Commander Conference was held by the Army chief to assess the population census.

The United Nations (UN) has shown concern at the army conducting a parallel count. According to the UN, the field staff should be properly equipped and a proper plan should be implemented.