Controversies continue despite census coming closer


Salahuddin Haider


Controversies, muted criticism from opposition parties, and provinces about the accuracy or the methodology applies for the long-awaited census in Pakistan after 19 years, continues despite the fact that such an enormous and important exercises, so vital for planning and development and knowing the needs of the country is about to begin—in about 12 days time.
Voices, feeble, but important and sensitive in their own place have been raised, showing lack of confidence among those conducting it. However, with the announcement that army now will be fully involved, and every group of enumerator, will have a soldier with it, has helped to silence critics, or atleast taken the wind away from their flurries, which is really a good omen.
The statistics department, agency that will be conducting it, has begun to gain confidence that years of wrangling by politicians concerned about a how a survey would affect the make-up of their local electorate.
That in fact, sums up the whole situation. Politicians, mostly narrow-vision, and politically motivated, rather than having a national approach to issues of such importance, were most concerned as to whether the census would reduce their importance in 2018 polls. But census is not just head counts, it covers the entire gambit of a national life, cover all its spectrum, economic, poverty level, need and strategy for development. That approach, if taken by politicians, would make the task easier and less controversial. That would also be beneficial for the country and its populace.
Analysts feel that changes could be significant in a country where 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. They recall that in 2015, the World Bank estimated Pakistan’s population at 188.9 million but the country still uses the official 1998 figure of 134.7 million. The population has exploded since its first census in 1951, when it had 33.8 million inhabitants.
Political leaders across the country have voiced concerns about the census, fearing a loss of influence from any changes in provincial demographics.
Media reports quoted Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa as saying that Pakistani army had been drafted in to provide security and ensure there was no harassment of officials.
“With every civil enumerator will be a military officer to ensure that the enumerator can enter the correct data without being intimidated by local political figures,”
Electoral seats in Pakistan’s parliament are assigned using population density data, and with rural populations fluctuating due to urbanisation, powerful feudal landlords and political families fear losing influence in Islamabad.
“Some regions are over-represented in the parliament and the political elite are wary of the census because it changes the voting pattern, changes the representation in the parliament,” said Shahid Faiz, chief executive of Free and Fair Election Network, an organisation collecting electoral data.
Bajwa said 200,000 military personnel would assist civilian counters to complete the 70-day data-gathering campaign, which will start on March 15.
The inclusion of Afghan refugees in the census, confirmed by Bajwa, had been strongly opposed by leaders from the country’s sparsely populated Baluchistan province, where separatists are waging an insurgency.
The ethnic Baluch fear being turned into a minority in their own province due to growing populations of other communities. Similar fears have been voiced by Sindhi politicians in southern Sindh province.
In January, normally conservative Pakistan announced that the country’s transgender community would be included in the 2017 census.
Originally scheduled for March, 2016, the census was postponed due to the unavailability of army personnel to oversee security.
The United Nations Population Fund will assign international observers to oversee the administration of the census, Bajwa said.