by Huma Khan (Director Research and Communications Center for Global & Strategic Studies)
The official commencement of Pakistan’s population census was initiated in March 2017 – a good 19 years since the last census took place. Population Census is significant for countries as it allows them to monitor their changing demographics so that redundant national policies can be redesigned in accordance with the altering patterns.
Lately, Pakistan has been engulfed in an array of issues which were supposedly blamed for the delay in census. It was only after the harsh remarks of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, criticising the overreliance of the civil bodies on the Pakistan Army, that the civil leadership complied with a speedy resolution in conducting the Census 2017.
On December 1, 2016 the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, while presiding over a 3-member bench of the Supreme Court during the hearing of the suo moto case on poulation census, said: “Population census does not seem to be taking place. It seems as if no other way is left before us except summoning [the] Prime Minister… the Government has no intention to hold [the] population census. Holding election without population census is a joke [to the] people [of Pakistan].”
“National policies are being formulated in the air. No one knows about the number of people living in the country. No political party has come to the court on this national issue. The arrangements should be completed by the start of March. Population census should be completed within two months from March, 15 to May, 15, 2017. Two months are enough for it,” he noted.
The current leadership will definitely add a star to its record as in 1998, it was the same political party in power which ensured that population census be held after a delay of seven years. Is population census in Pakistan a political concern too? The answer is quite straightforward as the major political parties have either strong provincial or ethnic affiliations. The census would entail a redistribution of resources among the country’s four provinces and the tribal regions governed by Islamabad, while the electoral constituencies will be redrawn. In 1998, Pakistan’s population was close to 140 million, and because of the lack of a timely census, all short and long-term policies were being formulated using the data of 1998 census.
Factors Creating Urgency for Census
There is no doubt that the population Census of 2017 is an event to be recorded in the history of Pakistan due to multiple underlying factors. Firstly, this census is taking place in the country after 19 years, which is a long enough time to change the entire demographics; a significant population size has jumped the ranks, which is categorized as children, adolescent, adults and elderly. Whereas on the other hand, many deceased are still counted as existing persons on the official record of the state, which is again a matter of apprehension.
The age-old policies designed to manage the population size of 1998 are still being implemented on the current demography. Secondly, Pakistan has been home to a substantial Afghan Refugee population, which has now been ordered to repatriate. As the Afghan nationals have already started to move back, by will or otherwise, it will certainly have an impact on the population of certain regions, which include the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Furthermore, the menace of terrorism has changed the entire family patterns of the afflicted areas where many households lost multiple members of the family to brutal incidents of terrorism. Similarly, the heightened terrorism in the KP and FATA region, as well as security challenges in Sindh, especially in Karachi, forced many families to relocate to other parts of the country. The capital of Islamabad is one such example, which has seen a high flux of residents from Baluchistan, Sindh and KP region.
On the contrary, due to the development of many regions in Baluchistan, many locals had relocated in pursuit of better economic opportunities promised by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The relocation within Baluchistan may not be as drastic as it is projected to be in the future, but still, the current changes will definitely make an impact in monitoring the diverging patterns. Another significance of the population Census 2017 lies in the fact that Pakistan is experiencing a population boom with a greater proportion of youth with social needs increasing over the years.
Curative Steps Taken for Wrinkling Out Various Concerns
Ranging from security concerns to social implications of the census, there were an array of problems which needed an action plan. Terrorism has been declared as the mother of all evils in Pakistan, which made the Pakistan Army rise to the role of a superhero, saving the nation from its dark days. The Pakistan Army is playing a similar role once again by ensuring security for the census data gathering team, and this exercise is scheduled to last for approximately two months. The involvement of the army will yield several benefits. Despite the high incidence of corruption, the tampering of data may not be as easy as it would have been under the civil surveillance. Secondly, as Pakistan Army is even feared by the worst enemy, the far-flung areas of the country, which are generally regarded as ‘No-Go Zones’, will also be covered to ensure that every nook and corner of the country are covered, and an excellent level of accuracy is achieved in data collection. While acknowledging the role played by the civil government, the initiatives taken by the government in designing the penalties in case of misinformation will also turn out to be helpful. Pakistan is standing at new crossroads, marking its entry into a new era of economic advancement and developmental progress and therefore, to devise relevant policies essential to address the socio-economic concerns, it is indispensable for the authorities to have a clear and authentic record of the country’s demographics. For the first time in 70 years, the transgender population will be given formal recognition as the government has decided to include a separate section for them.
Population Census 2017 is expected to add a figure of almost 40 million to the national account of the populace. This will be an abrupt rise, which will undoubtedly prove that the policies adopted by various sectors were purely inadequate and were the actual reason behind the growing disparities. Census 2017 will call for an immediate revision of policies, which will be another objective to achieve by the civilian leadership. Besides, the census will make a drastic impact on the elections of 2018 as well. Keeping in view that the Census 2017 has already commenced, following suggestive measures are designed to make this record taking as one of the most effective in the history:
- Census is a costly project, which is why most of the countries usually prefer to conduct it after a fixed interval of 10 years. Pakistan is expected to incur a cost of approximately 30 billion in conducting the current census. However, loopholes still exist as the data collection is going to be manually done, which leaves a major scope for human error. The management should invest in upgrading its technical capabilities to avoid the allegations similar to the rigging of elections 2013. Technical equipment will raise the cost, but it will also reduce the need for deploying extra human resource by reducing the margin of error. In the long run, it will also assist the decision makers in making precise policies pertaining to the socio-economic sector.
- The census record taking should not be carried out in isolation. The various departments of public record keeping such as NADRA, local police stations, and the financial sector, especially banks, should be taken on board for reconfirming the statistics to eliminate any errors or intentional misguidance.
- It is the responsibility of the district and local management to ensure that their regions of command are covered while the citizens must be reminded continually that it is their duty to assist the government to make the future better. Keeping in view the flooding of economic opportunities in Pakistan, it is important that in order to have a fair share from the national exchequer, honesty and cooperation must prevail at this stage of the census.
- It must also be understood that National Census is not only meant to have a mere count of individuals, rather it is an evaluative survey where the count of facilities in a certain domain must also be included. As the sample of current Census sheet depicts, there are still some loopholes, which need to be addressed by a panel of experts. The non-inclusion of Sikhism has already spurred anger amongst this particular community. Pakistan is a diverse land, and all religions, as well as sects, must be given a right to inclusion. Undermining particular sects or religions will only lead to more social and security problems in the future.
The population Census 2017 is an important milestone as it will be the 6th census in 70 years since independence. Pakistan is now emerging as a progressive state in the global sphere; where other countries, especially the Gulf and European states – for investment prospects – are now approaching the once abandoned state. Pakistan’s human resource is an asset, and its correct figure along with the state’s ability to provide basic social services, will further assist in uplifting the social wellbeing. The key factors, which make Pakistan an attractive hub for investments must be sustained to reach the long-term goals; where Pakistan does not want to remain as a developing country.