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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Sixth Census: A bright beginning but fraught with challenges.

Abdul Rahim|

After a lapse of nearly two decades, the sixth census in Pakistan’s history finally started on 15 March. 2017.  This intricate exercise will be conducted in two phases. Phase-I includes: 16 districts of Punjab, 8 of Sindh, 14 of Pakhtoonkhwa, 15 of  Balochistan, 5 of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) and 5 of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). The Phase-II will include 22 districts from Punjab, 21 from Sindh, 18 from Pakhtoonkhwa, 17 from Baluchistan and five districts each from both AJ&K and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

Pakistan is an amazingly diverse nation in terms of language, culture and ethnicity and the state of Pakistan is bound by the constitution to fulfill its responsibilities by giving these diverse communities their due political and cultural rights.  The identification of only nine languages, representing ethnicities in the census of 2017, and exclusion of Balti, Gujrati and other regional languages is seen by many as grossly unfair. The number of speakers of these languages is already dwindling, and government’s failure to recognize these languages will be further detrimental to the identity of these small communities.

Pakistan is an amazingly diverse nation in terms of language, culture and ethnicity and the state of Pakistan is bound by the constitution to fulfill its responsibilities by giving these diverse communities their due political and cultural rights.

The issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) will perhaps be the biggest challenge for Pakistan’s Sixth Census. Where and how these IDP’s will be counted? These IDPs from FATA have taken temporary refuge in different parts of the country displaced due to military operations against terrorists in FATA. Moreover, the status of Afghan refugees is politically contentious and is being hotly debated by political parties in Balochistan. On March 16, 2017, MNAs of Pushtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PK-MAP) and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) staged a walkout from parliament to protest government’s lack of seriousness to address their concerns on these issues.

FATA’s IDPs: Challenge for the Census

According to National Bureau of Statistics, Phase-1 merely includes Orakzai agency and the rest of the six agencies will be part of Phase-2. According to FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) only 448,556 IDPs are registered which is far less than the actual number of IDPs, who are now living in different parts of the country – mostly in KPK and Karachi.

FATA is a shadow of its former self. It has been completely destroyed and its population made to flee.

FATA – with an estimated population of more than 10 million, and spread across 27,000 sq. km – has remained the center of TTP militancy and the military operations to counter these. FATA thus today is a mere shadow of its former self. Its historic civic structure has been completely destroyed and significant part of its population forced to flee for safety. No wonder, more than 50 percent population of FATA is internally displaced and living temporarily across different parts of the country; in KPK, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab.

Senators and MNAs from FATA have therefore demanded the return of IDPs and their complete rehabilitation before conducting census in FATA.

Jamal ud Din Mehsud, MNA, of Jamiat Ulama e Islam (JUIF) from South Waziristan, who walked out along with Abdul Qahar Wadan, MNA of PK-MAP from national Assembly on March 16, 2017, demanded a special additional “Performa” to facilitate full representation of FATA’s IDPs in 6th census, otherwise census in FATA will not be accepted.

Concerns over Afghan refugees

The issue of Afghan refugees, in Baluchistan, is even more difficult. It is being hotly debated among Pashtun and Baloch nationalists. Almost all Baloch nationalists are opposing census until the complete repatriation of Afghan refugees is ensured. They present their own facts and figures to justify their fears. On the other hand, Pashtun nationalists – especially parties like PK-MAP – reject concerns of Baloch nationalists over Afghan refugees. Pashtun parties like PK-MAP describe it a mere political propaganda.

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

The issue of Baloch IDPs is another concern for Baloch nationalists. They demand the urgent repatriation of Baloch IDPs who have sought refuge in other parts of the country since 2006, due to the insurgency, that was raging till 2012.

Mainstream political parties of Balochistan like Balochistan National Party (Mengal) and National Party, fear that this census is a designed plot and conspiracy to convert Baloch people into a minority. Ex. CM of Balochistan, Dr. Malik Baloch and President of National Party and Federal minister for Ports and Shipping Hasil Bizenjo has already rejected census in presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, in general, and Balochistan in particular. According to Sardar Akhtar Mangal, president of BNP-M, there are four million (4 million) Afghan refugees in Balochistan. He refutes the statistics given in the report of National Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of States and Frontier Region (SAFRON) which is headed by retired General Abdul Qadir Baloch.

The SAFRON report reveals different statistics about Afghan refugees. A report designed by National Bureau of Statistics and released by ministry of SAFRON (State and Frontier Regions) shows that the total numbers of registered Afghan refugees are as following:

Province Outside Camps In Camps Total individuals Ind %
KPK 431,967 388,536 820,503 58.7
Balochistan 265,154 48,796 313,950 22.5
Punjab 144,905 15,785 160,690 11.5
Sindh 65,236 0 65,236 4.7
Islamabad 33,010 0 33,010 2.4
Azad Kashmir 3,884 0 3,884 0.3
TOTAL 944,156 453,117 1,397,273 100

This report is designed by National Bureau of Statistics and SAFRON ministry.

According to ministry of SAFRON, 1.3 million are registered and 0.6 million are unregistered Afghan refugees living in different parts of the country. Out of total, only 313,950 Afghan refugees are living in Balochistan.

Way Forward: Policy Options

After a long gap of 19 years, conducting 6th census is encouraging, to say the least. Though, the issues of Afghan refugees and FATA’s IDPs appear as real challenges faced by this census but politicizing the refugee issue for political interests while ignoring the real issue of FATA IDPs is unfair.

Read more: Farooq Sattar warns Census Commissioner over Sindh government’s political designs

FATA’s IDPs are the actual heroes of war against terrorism. Sacrificing their peace and prosperity and bearing the brunt of terrorism must not be ignored. Ignoring IDPs in 6th census and counting them merely in their temporarily settled cities across the country is condemnable.

Following suggestions may provide the Way Forward:

  1. An extra “Performa” needs to be attached with the form specifically for IDPs.
  2. The urgent repatriation of IDPs is not possible, so they must be given an opportunity to count themselves as residents of FATA notwithstanding where they are currently living.
  3. All seven agencies and six frontier regions must be included in Phase-II in order to maximize the chances of fair census.
  4. Ministry of SAFRON must present actual data about Afghan refugees to media and concerned political parties who have objections and question figures made public so far.
  5. Political parties must support army to ensure fair accountability of population and housing units across the country
  6. The govt. must extend every possible support to Baloch IDPs to ensure their registration and counting in census in order to create a politically suitable atmosphere.

Abdul Rahim has completed his M. Phil degree with a focus on Talibanization and Imperialist Designs in 21st Century at International Islamic University, Islamabad. He tweets at Rahim_realist and his email is abdul.mseng346@iiu.edu.pk. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.