Census controversy in Balochistan

February 28, 2016

The Baloch political parties fear presence of Afghans in the province will undermine the Baloch representation

Census controversy in Balochistan

In Balochistan, the most burning issue these days is census which is supposed to be conducted next month. Almost all major parties have an opinion on this issue and are vocally expressing it in press and in their political gatherings. Focus in this debate is the presence of Afghan refugees in Balochistan who can affect the outcome of the census and can change the demographics, Baloch political parties claim.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, on Christmas Eve in 1979, approximately five million Afghan refugees migrated to Pakistan. Pakistan welcomed these refugees at that time and allowed them to stay in Balochistan. With the passage of time and due to corrupt and weak state apparatus, these refugees managed to get citizenship of Pakistan in large number. This has been proved in court of law.

Census is scheduled to take place in March this year after a gap of almost 18 years. The Baloch political parties fear that census would turn the Baloch into a minority in their own province. They claim that on one side the Baloch population would be understated because census can’t be carried out in a lot of Baloch areas due to security concerns. On the other hand population of Pashtuns would be overstated due to presence of Afghan refugees with fake citizenship documents in Pashtun areas.

Balochistan National Party (BNP) is most vocal in opposing census in Balochistan in the presence of Afghan refugees. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, President of BNP and former Chief Minister of Balochistan, fears that census in these circumstances will threaten the existence of Baloch. He recently said in a press conference that situation in Balochistan is not favourable for census, hence it should be postponed.

Baloch Nationalist Party was not vocal on the issue of census when their former president Dr Malik Baloch was chief minister. After he quit office of the CM last December, the NP has also started opposing census in Balochistan. Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo, President of NP said, "We will not allow census in Balochistan until the exodus of Afghan Refugees."

On the other hand, Pashtun politicians and Pashtun-dominated political parties are in favour of census. Maulana Abdul Wasay, opposition leader in Balochistan Assembly and a native Pashtun hailing from JUI-F said, "We are in favour of census as it is the only way to get our due rights from the federal government."

Best possible way to handle this controversial issue is to form a joint committee of Baloch and Pashtun politicians which should have members from NADRA, Federal Bureau of Statistics and Census Commission.

Senator Usman Kakar, Provincial President of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), demands a fair and free census in Balochistan. He is of the view that if both Baloch and Pashtun accept each other’s rights then there will be no problem. He says, "Politicising the issue of census using pretext of Afghan refugees is senseless."

There seems to be a tug of war between the Baloch and Pashtun politicians and political parties on the issue of census. Almost all the Baloch political parties are against conducting census next month and want it to be postponed indefinitely. On the other hand majority of Pashtun politicians want census to be held next month.

Nawab Ghaus Bakhsh Barozai, who is a former caretaker CM of Balochistan and a major tribal chieftain of Pashtuns, said, "It is the duty of the state to conduct census and make sure that refugees are not a part of it." He believes that there is no disagreement on the point that Afghan refugees should not be included in census but that should not be used to harass local Pashtuns.

Certain other political parties and groups within Pashtuns of Balochistan are also not in favour of settlement of Afghan refugees in Balochistan. Recently, Zhob Qaumi Jirga, a group of tribal elders of Zhob district demanded cancellation of CNICs and domiciles issued to Afghans settled in Zhob. Kakar Jamhoori Party, a political party based in Loralai district of Balochistan, also makes similar demands from time to time.

Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior analyst based in Quetta, believes that the federal government should review the reservations of Baloch nationalists and take action if it finds merit in them. He finds weight in the claims made by the Baloch politicians with regard to conducting census in the presence of Afghan refugees. Zulfiqar further said that similar reservations are coming out from Sindh and therefore the federal government has to address the concerns to make the census impartial.

Read also: Demographic concerns of Sindh and Balochistan

According to news coming from Islamabad, matter of census will be settled in a meeting of Council of Common Interests (CCI) which is scheduled to take place on February 29. Meeting of the CCI is supposed to take place after every three months but its taking place almost after a gap of one year. The premier has specifically asked for making census a part of the CCI agenda. The federal government is expected to reach a decision about census with the consensus of all provincial governments.

Census is extremely important for planning and development in any country. If the accurate figures about population are not known then there is no way a country can carry out effective planning. Census should have taken place in 2008 and in this sense all the development mechanisms of Balochistan are working on guess work for the last 8 years. So, there are no second thoughts on the importance of the census and it should be conducted this year.

However, it is also necessary to address the concerns of Baloch nationalists so that they can also support the census. Best possible way to handle this controversial issue is to form a joint committee of the Baloch and Pashtun politicians which should have members from NADRA, Federal Bureau of Statistics and Census Commission. Jointly, this committee can devise a formula on how to identify Afghan refugees with Pakistani citizenship documents and exclude them from census. That is the only way to ensure a transparent and undisputed census in Balochistan this year.

Census controversy in Balochistan