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Political Play
Zulfiqar Shah
Pakistan: Census amid ethno-national conflicts 24 December, 2016
Census is forthcoming in Pakistan after over two-decade lapse. Census in Pakistan, unlike elsewhere, is the core of not only economy and development, but also of the polity and inter-provincial relationships.
Since population as well as ethno-linguistic and religion aspects are the milestone-setting factors for the development and federal equation with reference to power construct in Pakistan, therefore they are a kind of ethnography that has to set norms for economy, polity, and development.

Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa have their historical concerns regarding the practices of census over last seven decades. Today, appropriate census becomes unavoidable because if the census becomes unacceptable to the federating provinces, federating nations can reject it. This can cause chaos and a United Nations intervention can also be invited.

Sindh has historical concerns that census data is against reality because the unwritten traditions of bureaucracy in Pakistan have been to declare smaller number of population in general, and to further reduce the population number of Sindh. In 1990s, when census was almost appropriately carried, federal government disapproved and rejected it.

Sindh's population, if independent analysis is considered, is over 60 million. This does not include the birth rate and inter-provincial as well as outside Pakistan mass migrations, but also the trend that Pakistan establishment in earlier decades decided to reduce the real number of inhabitants of the provinces particularly of Sindh.

On the basis of data manipulation practice of last seven decades, an average population increase ratio is gauged by the bureaucracy and that has been made a thumb rule in Pakistan. An appropriate exercise of census giving almost appropriate data, contradicts the very average ratio that has been much touted for data manipulation. Similar issues are witnessed in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Siraiki southern Punjab.

IIn the ethno-linguistic context, the creation of smaller new and more districts in Punjabi speaking area of northern Punjab despite the fact that the required population as well as geopolitics for administration of a district has never been kept in the consideration while creating new districts in Punjab. Thus, “flow of development funds as well as creation of new parliament constituencies” has been against the fundamentals of federalism.

Districts in Punjab are shorter in their area and smaller in population. The concentration of population is not a factor behind that because there are no high-rise buildings in most of the Punjab districts. Besides, there are fertile lands, forms and arid planes in these districts.

In fact, ethno-linguistic Punjabi is not majority in Pakistan. Punjabi population is roughly smaller than Siraiki southern Punjab within Punjab. The official data of population of Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa are inappropriate.

Other factors also exist that need to be taken into consideration for an appropriate and transparent census. Population in the mountainous and hilly, desert, forest, coastal, arid, and remote areas usually is not undertaken. Insurgency in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and peaceful conflict between Sindh and the Center, if combined with the intentions and previous census practices of ethnic-Punjabi majority establishment of Pakistan, there are strong possibilities that ethnically-selective census data manipulation may happen.

Ensuring not only the maximum outreach of census teams, but also ensuring observation at district, provincial and central level for data compilation is required. Union Council (UC) level monitoring and observation of census process by broader local civil society and political parties is essential. International observers should also be invited.

At the same time, census fraud complaint mechanism is necessary. Role of media in this regards is important. Civil society and political parties should also form a census complaint cell at UC and Tehsil (sub-district), district, province and center level. Historical average context of the census should also be evaded. Besides, in the column of religions Scheduled Castes needs to be submerged with the Hindu. Awareness campaigns are also essential for all stakeholders for an appropriate and true census.

Let us see how we enter the first census of twenty-first century. Accurate or manipulated, federation has to receive impact of this in the fragile political and anarchistic system of the Pakistan, where ethno-national federative people and provinces have already a history of conflicts.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Zulfiqar Shah is a stateless activist, analyst, and researcher. Although he is a refugee, and living a life in exile, he is a born Sindhi and South Asian. Currently he lives in India.
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