Being counted. Or not?

March 26, 2023

There have been reports of opposition to the on-going digital census in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Assistant Commissioner Upper Kurram Amir Nawaz along with other census team in village near Pak-Afghan border. — Photo by the author
Assistant Commissioner Upper Kurram Amir Nawaz along with other census team in village near Pak-Afghan border. — Photo by the author


n March 17, in Saroke, a remote village near the Pak-Afghan border in Upper Kurram, around forty families refused to be registered for the census. They said they were refusing to be counted on account of the government’s failure to provide basic infrastructure and services. On receiving the complaint, Amir Nawaz Khan, Upper Kurram’s assistant commissioner visited the place to negotiate with the residents of the area. He highlighted the importance of the census in future developmental projects, distribution of government resources and funding, and persuaded them to register for the census. Having received the assurance, the families agreed to cooperate and the whole village was enumerated.

Speaking to The News on Sunday, Amir Nawaz Khan said that villagers were demanding a water supply scheme, roads and a basic health unit. After the assurance, he says, they were convinced that future development schemes would be provided on the basis of population. “This was the only reported case of such protest in the border area. A majority of the residents in tribal district Kurram happily enumerated themselves and are cooperating with the census teams,” he says.

A few cases were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where printed questionnaires had been distributed. Speaking to TNS, Augustin Jacob, a Peshawar-based human rights activist, wondered why despite having digital training and tablets to record the data, the census teams were collecting data on paper, even in some areas of Peshawar. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics has discouraged the use and distribution of printed questionnaires for the 7th Population and Housing Census. It has also directed all assistant commissioners and district commissioners to ensure strict compliance with the instructions.

Dr Khan Zeb Burki belongs to Kaniguram, a town in the sub-division Ladha, South Waziristan. During the 2017 census, due to military operations, a majority of Burki and Mehsud tribes were displaced. They were not counted in the settled districts. Now the displaced families have been repatriated to their homes. The Burki tribe has formed committees, each consisting of 15 volunteers. These committees are sensitizing the local community and facilitating enumerators. “We don’t want to miss any family of the Burki tribe in the ongoing digital census. The volunteers are arranging awareness sessions about the census in hujras and are providing food, accommodation and free hospitality to the enumerators,” says Dr Burki.

Mujahid Hussain Turi, a human rights activist in Parachinar, claims that during the 2017 census, the city’s population was counted on the basis of pre-partition demarcation. However, over the 75 years the city has expanded vastly. “In the ongoing digital census, we are demanding that district administration and the census team extend the Parachinar city demarcation,” he says. Turi says that in the villages near the Afghan border, enumerators are facing technical problems such as charging of their tablet (devices).

“This was the only such reported case in the border area. A majority of the residents in tribal district Kurram are cooperating with the census teams,” says Amir Nawaz Khan, the Upper Kurram assistant commissioner.

On TikTok and other social media platforms, a few netizens have shared videos with misinformation about the digital census. Countering social media misinformation is a challenge for the census team and district administration.

“Some people are using TikTok and other social media content to create false videos and spread misinformation about the ongoing census. This jeopardises the future of Pakistan and its people. We urge everyone not to share false information about the census,” the PBS’ official Twitter handle has tweeted.

The census teams are traveling to remote villages to ensure that every household and every individual is accurately enumerated. From March 12 to April 4, field enumeration for the digital census will be carried out across the country. Some technical problems have been reported from the field. At one stage the software updates created challenges for enumerators. The PBS has established 495 census support centres fully equipped with IT facilities and trained staff (of PBS and NADRA) for technical assistance to the enumerators.

While responding to technical fault reports, the PBS released a statement saying that the census teams have proactively overcome all challenges and technical glitches to ensure accurate enumeration of every household using digital census tablets. At least 121,000 field workers provided by the provincial governments have been extensively trained and 126,000 tablets with SIMs along with compatible networks have been provided for the secure transformation of data.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s hard areas, census teams are facing security challenges. Two policemen were gunned down and five others received injuries in terrorist attacks on those deployed on census duty in Tank and Lakki Marwat districts. The banned militant group, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The PBS is mandated to conduct the population and housing census and other data collection activities in the country according to the General Statistics (Reorganisation) Act, 2011. In 1881, the first organised census was held under the British rule. Since then, censuses have been held after every 10 years, with a few exceptions.

The first post-independence census was conducted in 1951; the second in 1961; the third in 1972 and the fourth in 1981. The fifth census due in 1991 was not undertaken timely. It was finally conducted in March 1998.

The sixth population and housing census was scheduled to be held in 2008 but was postponed due to law and order situation in the country. It was later conducted in 2017. After three-and-a-half-year delay, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) approved the census results in April 2021. The Punjab, the KP and Balochistan approved the census 2017 results but Sindh rejected those. The CCI also decided that a fresh census be carried out before the 2023 general elections and all stakeholders be taken on board for holding the new census to avoid any reservations.

The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

Being counted. Or not?