PAKISTAN is the sixth most populous country in the world. After 19 years, census is being conducted in Pakistan. It is a first census in nearly two decades. It is a positive step by the government before the national election scheduled to be held next year in 2018. The count would provide an updated political map of Pakistan and lead to accuracy in vote count in the upcoming elections. It would help government to revise political boundaries, National Assembly seat allocations, inter-provincial resource allocation, job quotas and distribution of funds through National Finance Commission (NFC). The census would also provide a clearer picture of religious minorities and would even document for the first time the transgender people in the country.
During census, a team of more than 300,000 people that involves 200,000 military personnel, including 44,000 participating directly in the census-taking and making a parallel count using a second form, would be on the census duty. 91,000 civilian enumerators will distribute around 55 million forms while second separate form will be distributed by the military. The enumerators will focus on head count and basic demographics such as age, gender, marital status etc. and the additional data through Form 2A would be collected in the third or fourth quarter of this year. Initially, there was great resistance to hold census which is scheduled after every ten years as announced by the PMs Office and ratified by the Council of Common Interests since March, 15, 2007.
The provinces raised concerns for example Punjab feared that its political grip would be weaken as the provincial population is not rising at a similar rate as in other provinces. The census may result in decline in the Punjab National Assembly seats and transferring them to other federating units. Similarly, Balochistan argued that census should be put off in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunhawa (KP) till Afghan refugees return to their country and also till Baloch people in exile return or else Balochs will become a minority in their own province and would be under reported in the census. Sindh had issue of 30 percent of population without computerized national identity cards (CNICs) and was worried about counting its complete population in the due time.
Some of Sindhi nationalists have reservations that Urdu-Speaking people would describe themselves as “Sindhi” in the census resulting in greater animosity between Sindhi nationalists and Mohajirs. The 2017 census would disturb the rural-urban equation in the province as well. While for KP, census is important as the KP government would be informed about people who have survived during local wars and insurgency operations. The integration of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with KP is also a positive move to bring FATA into mainstream. The increase of population would allow KP to have more seats in the National Assembly and have larger share in NFC award and other resources. Despite all these controversies, the Supreme Court pushed the government to carry out census in Pakistan.
There are certain issues faced by the government in holding the census for example due to short time certain pre-census and post-census mechanisms to ensure quality have not be included such as pre-enumeration pilot census to examine the preparation and mobilization of field staff, transportation of forms to field sites and up to date software for technical data processing etc. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recommends plan that includes two-day extension in each area and monitoring progress for up to a week if required. But there has been no pilot census this time. UNFPA has referred to a need for a census master plan to omit confusion over dejure (when persons are counted at their place of residence) vs. de facto(when persons are counted on the day where they are found) enumeration. In 1998 census, both approaches were used but only persons present at that time on that day were counted in the census. This time all those present in the country on the day would be included and those who lived at a place for six months from reference day would be registered from that place.
The UN has also shown concerns regarding Army’s role as a parallel data collectors in the census process. But the government has involved army for accurate data collection, maintenance of law and order and for the security of census staff as well as for the protection of camp offices. Another challenge is counting of overseas Pakistanis. As in 1998, overseas Pakistanis are not counted as art of legitimate population in this census. This has raised concerns of undercounting around 8 million Pakistanis living abroad. However, Pakistani citizens staying abroad for less than six months will be included in the survey. There is also a challenge of documenting people without CNICs. The Afghan refugees living in camps will not be counted but those residing in residential areas will be counted. An awareness campaign has been launched to ensure active participation of professionals from all fields and citizens in the census. For accuracy of data, those who would provide incorrect information would be liable for fine and imprisonment.
The census 2017 would present what has changed in the country since 1998 with proper data about urbanization, inter-provincial and intra-provincial migration, unemployment, literacy rate etc. Complete and accurate census information is vital for addressing variety of social challenges such as inadequate health facilities, water shortages, lack of quality education etc. Hence, it can be concluded that census 2017 is important for Pakistan because it would provide information to planners and policy makers for the development work by assessing the demographic trends and socio-economic conditions and evaluating effective strategies and development goals. Therefore, census 2017 would change the existing status quo and would urge policy makers to review their present priorities and policies. However, the progress of census mainly depends on the public understanding, support and mutual trust between the public and the government. Thus, Pakistani citizens should co-operate with government in the census process to make this exercise successful.
— The writer is Assistant Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.