After the clear direction of Supreme Court of Pakistan, the federal government decided to conduct sixth population census in March 2017. Earlier, it was due to be conducted in 2008 and 2010 but delayed due to political unrest, law and order and natural disasters. The new announcement of holding census met with mixed reactions in the province as Baloch political parties have expressed reservations over conducting census.
As Balochistan has always been remained on the spotlight – security operations, sectarian killings and Gwadar are the hot issues in the province and now holding of census seems to be an addition to those bunch of issues. Baloch political parties such as Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) and National Party (NP) have raised its concerns regarding the huge presence of Afghan refugees in the province. These parties claim that it is almost impossible to conduct free and fair census while keeping in view the presence of Afghan refugees, law and order situation and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Baloch, who have migrated to Sindh and other parts of Pakistan. They feel that the Baloch would be converted into minority if the census was conducted in the presence of these refugees. The Baloch parties seeks the postponement of the census till the return of the Baloch IDPs to their areas in the province and repatriation of the refugees to Afghanistan. In this regard, BNP-M has also filed a review petitions in Balochistan High Court and in Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Quetta Registry. The party has also formed a Parliamentary Committee to discuss the issue with various political parties in the country to apprise them about the Baloch reservations and woo their supports for the postponement of the census.
On the other hand, Pashtoon nationalist parties such as the ruling Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) announced its full support to the government for conducting the census. The party claims that Afghan refugees would not be inducted and only those Pakistanis, having proper CNICs would be counted in the census whereas the Baloch parties allege that Afghan refugees in huge numbers have acquired CNICs through illegal means. The same PkMAP that is now expressing its support for the holding of census, had boycotted the last census, held in 1998 when the Central President of BNP Sardar Akhtar Mengal was the Chief Minister of Balochistan. At that time, the party alleged Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s government for not conducting free and fair census. Being a Pashtun nationalist party, PkMAP does not much differentiate between Pashtun Afghan refugees and local Pashtuns. The party thinks Pashtuns whether from Pakistan or Afghanistan can live independently on both sides of the Durand Line without facing any hindrance.
As every Pakistani utilizes public services such as hospitals, schools roads and libraries etc. so running these services requires a complete and accurate policies and plan. Nevertheless, it is pivotal to conduct census once in every ten years in order to provide the complete and clear picture of the population to the government. In Pakistan, the elected seats, grants, funds and NFC Award are being allocated on the basis of population. Therefore, political parties in Pakistan as a whole, whereas parties, particularly in multi-ethnic province Balochistan, are taking keen interest in the census because it would decide the survival of the ethnic groups and tribes.
It seems the Federal government, so far, has not taken the Baloch parties into confidence. Being the major political parties of the province, BNP-M and NP, if not taken into confidence, have the capabilities to create law and order situation and mobilize the masses against the holding of census. Nevertheless, if the government fails to address the Baloch’s reservations, the Baloch political parties might decide to boycott the population census which would further increase the rift between Balochs and federal government. In order to avoid the controversy over the holding of census, the government should immediately take concrete confidence building measures to address the reservations of the Baloch parties.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices not necessarily agrees with them.
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