6th Population census exposes Pakistan’s harsh realities; after 2 decades of delay

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ISLAMABAD, Mar 16: Pakistan is holding its first census in nearly two decades amid tight security. The process is crucial for redrawing the political map of the country grappling with a weak economy and bitter divisions over resources.

Pakistan’s previous national population census was held in 1998 – after being delayed for seven years. Now, after 19 years, the South Asian country is holding its sixth census since its independence in 1947 from British rule. The authorities attribute the delays to a lack of funding and administrative inefficiencies, but the real reasons are far more complicated.

A proper census would mean a redistribution of resources among the country’s four provinces and the tribal regions governed by Islamabad. Since Pakistan’s independence, the smaller provinces – Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh – have complained of not getting their rightful share as the most-populous province, Punjab, has dominated the economic and political spheres.

A new census could initiate a reorganization of electoral constituencies, the redistribution of wealth among the provinces, districts and cities, as well as greater autonomy for the politically marginalized ethnic communities.

Also, the 2017 census will shed light on the state of religious and ethnic minorities that have faced discrimination from the government for the past few decades.

The first phase of the census – a weeks-long process – kicked off on March 15 and will end on April 15, whereas the second will last from April 25 to May 25. The final results are expected by the end of July.

According to the local English newspaper, “Dawn,” around 118,000 “enumerators” in 63 districts began the 70-day data-gathering campaign on Wednesday, March 15, amid tight security.

“The security officials, including 200,000 military personnel, will be present to protect census teams but also to ensure households can enter data without being intimidated,” said Dawn.

“It’s a very hectic process, but we are ready for it,” Nadeem Ehsan, a census official in the northwestern city of Peshawar, told the AFP news agency. “We had some reservations about security initially, but we were assured about it by the government,” he added.

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