The politics behind Pakistan’s first census in nearly two decades
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The politics behind Pakistan’s first census in nearly two decades

PAKISTAN, on Wednesday, will begin conducting its first national census in 19 years.

The census will be much more than a count, however, it will determine the power of ethnic groups.

Although the Bureau of Statistics is becoming relevant again, the hotly debated census is causing a stir. Pakistan has seen a number of changes since it recorded its population as 34 million at the time of its first census in 1954.

Pakistan is currently home to approximately 200 million people who speak over 80 languages. The population is growing, but at present Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world.

Current development programmes rely on the last census where the population stood at 134.7 million, which activists claim has caused a host of problems.

The law states a census should take place every decade, but this has not been the case.

This year, 300,000 people (including up to 200,000 military officers) armed with 55,000 forms will be deployed to record the demographic changes that have occurred since 1998.

The census comes at a particularly precarious time – a year before the national parliamentary elections.

Parliamentary seat allocations, federal funding, and political boundaries will all be altered by the census, unless the rampant changes are not recorded with accuracy.

Inflating the size of a population in a certain province will lead to more funding, more seats in Parliament and the availability of more jobs. Ethnic groups have every reason to bribe officials into recording higher numbers.

SEE ALSO: Pakistan: Moves to integrate tribal areas in the northwest

Punjab, for example, may lose its political power as its population has not increased at the same rate as the rest of the country.

Other provinces, such as Baluchistan, fear the census. A nationalist party has suggested the arrival of Pashtuns in the province will make the ethnic Balochs a minority. The number of religious minority groups will also be recorded in the Muslim-majority country.

The number of religious minority groups will also be recorded in the Muslim-majority country.

One of the biggest difficulties the census will face is determining whether or not ethnic Pashtuns are Pakistanis or Afghans. There are over two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, many who have falsified documents.

Pashtuns from both sides have been crisscrossing the border for decades. It is difficult to identity who is who, as many refugees live in and among Pakistani citizens of the same ethnic group. Many of those in the Sindh province have suggested holding the census once Afghan refugees return home.

SEE ALSO: Pakistan’s Afghan refugee conundrum

According to Dr Hassan Mohtashami from the UN Population Fund, “there was very limited time to get everybody on board [and] ensure everyone feels the importance of being counted”.

But rather than fearing not being counted, it appears the opposite to be true.

To combat misinformation, Information State Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said those who “wilfully” gave false information would face a fine of US$500 and a six-month jail term.

One of the more unusual changes in the new Pakistani census is the inclusion of transsexuals.

Traditionally, the conservative strain of Islam common in Pakistan has marginalised LGBTI communities, but it appears officials are taking steps to build tolerance.

The results of the census are expected by the end of July, after a second phase takes place from April 25.