Monday July 15, 2024

Who gets counted?

On August 22, a tripartite meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNCHR took place in Kabul. In that meeting Afghanistan requested the government of Pakistan to extend the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan by two years; the deadline for their stay is set to expire in December this year.

By our correspondents
September 11, 2015
On August 22, a tripartite meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNCHR took place in Kabul. In that meeting Afghanistan requested the government of Pakistan to extend the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan by two years; the deadline for their stay is set to expire in December this year. Pakistan is yet to make a decision on this request.
This might be a trivial issue for some but for Balochistan it has huge implications. In March 2016, Pakistan is all set to conduct a national census after a gap of almost 18 years. This is a welcome development for the country since data generated through the census is must for socio-economic development. However, a census in Balochistan would lead to problems and could further exacerbate the ongoing conflict in the province.
As per the 1998 census, the population of Balochistan was 6.56 million. provincial assembly seats, job quotas and other resources of the provinces are distributed based on the ethnic composition of the Baloch and Pashtun communities. According to the house listing survey of 2011, the population of Balochistan has increased to 13.1 million. Analysts believe that, apart from a natural increase in population, the naturalisation of Afghan refugees is a major contributing factor. This means that the ethnic composition of Balochistan will drastically change by reducing the number of the Baloch population if a census is conducted next year.
The Balochistan National Party (BNP) is leading the campaign for exodus of Afghan refugees from Balochistan before the forthcoming census. The BNP claims that millions of Afghan refugees have acquired fake nationality documents by bribing government officials. Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini, while talking to this writer, demanded that all identity documents provided to Afghan refugees must be cancelled otherwise the BNP would strongly resist the forthcoming census.
Sardar Akhtar Mengal, chief of the BNP and former chief minister of Balochistan, develops a logical argument against holding a census in the presence of Afghan refugees next year. He says that on one side the population of Pashtun areas would increase in the census due to influx of Afghan refugees whereas on the other side the population of Baloch areas would be reduced because census can’t be taken place in several distracts of Balochistan due to law and order situation.
Independent analysis of the claims of the BNP proves that there is some weight in them. In three different cases, Nadra employees have been convicted in Balochistan by accountability courts for issuing illegal CNICs to Afghan refugees. Over a dozen Nadra employees are serving imprisonment sentences at the moment in those cases. These employees have confessed, during investigations conducted by the FIA, that they issued hundreds of thousands of CNICs to Afghan refugees. According to a report, 64,000 fake CNICs were issued by Nadra in the seven months of 2015 only.
The house listing survey of 2011 also supports the claim that Afghan refugees have been granted Pakistani identity documents. The population of the Qilla Abdullah district in Balochistan was just 370,269 in 1998; it jumped up to 2,138,997 in 2011. According to the BNP and other Baloch politicians, an increase of 447 percent in the population of Qilla Abdullah is not possible without counting Afghan refugees as Pakistani citizens. Some other districts in the Pashtun belt, like Loralai and Pishin, have also witnessed a massive increase in population as compared to the the 1998 figures. In contrast none of the Baloch areas have witnessed any sharp increase in population. The house listing survey could not even be conducted in Khuzdar, Kech and Panjgur districts due to the law and order situation there.
The Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) rejects the claims of the BNP and other parties regarding the naturalisation of Afghan refugees in Balochistan. PkMAP maintains that historically the Pashtun belt of Balochistan, which it calls southern Pashtunkhwa, was a part of Afghanistan. So, if Afghan citizens settle here then they are not refugees but living on their historical land. That is what is claimed by PkMAP. The party also claims that the Pashtun community boycotted the 1998 census and that’s the reason their population was recorded as less than the Baloch in that census.
However, other Pashtun parties of Balochistan don’t agree with PkMAP on the issue of Afghan refugees. Nawab Ghous Baksh Barozai, former caretaker chief minister of Balochistan and Nawab of a majority of Pashtun tribes, told this writer that Afghans who belong to the other side of the Durand Line should not be counted in the next census. He further said that Pashtun tribes of Balochistan should not be harassed using the pretext of the issue of Afghan refugees.
The Kakar Jamhoori Party (KJP) a party representing the Kakar tribe, one of the largest Pashtun tribes in Balochistan, also opposes the settlement of Afghan refugees in Balochistan. The KJP claims that an extension in the stay of Afghan refugees in Balochistan is tantamount to snatching the rights of coming generations of the native Pashtuns of Balochistan. The KJP has also announced its intention to hold a grand jirga to put pressure on the government to send Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan.
According to a briefing by law-enforcement agencies to journalists in Quetta, s represent 31 percent of the population of Balochistan. A Quetta-based analyst claims that if Afghan refugees are not excluded from the population in Pashtun areas then the entire pupation dynamic of the province will be turned upside-down. That would result in several other problems and end up fuelling the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan.
The federal government, therefore, must handle the situation of Afghan refugees in Balochistan with the utmost care. The request of extension in their stay in Pakistan must be entertained while taking note of the implications of any decisions in Balochistan. The government can’t force Afghan refugees out of Pakistan but what it can do is to ensure that any illegal citizenship documents of Afghan refugees are cancelled prior to the census.
Events transpiring in the last few weeks hint towards some betterment in the situation in Balochistan. In order to ensure continuity of such positive developments in Balochistan, Afghan refugees must not be allowed to be a part of the census in Balochistan. If the right decisions are not made at the right time it will result in a highligh volatile situation in Balochistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist and the editor of The Balochistan Point, Balochistan’s only English-language online newspaper.
Twitter: @iAdnanAamir