ISLAMABAD: The army on Friday approved the deployment of 200,000 troops for duties during the sixth population and housing census scheduled to commence on March 15 and continue for two months.
“Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa has approved the plan to support conduct of 6th population and housing census. Up to 200,000 troops will be employed,” a statement issued by the ISPR, the military’s public relations wing, said.
The decision to deploy the troops for the census has paved the way for the holding of the long-delayed exercise. Unavailability of troops because of their pre-occupation with security tasks had been cited as the biggest obstacle in the conduct of the census.
Beside their engagement with security operations, the army had been concerned about presence of Afghan refugees in Balochistan, which it feared would adversely impact the ethnic profile of the province.
The chief of the army staff’s secretariat in an earlier letter to the government on the matter had warned that holding of the census would become impossible without the cancellation of computerised national identity cards of Pakistan issued to Afghans.
Soldiers will also serve as enumerators
The Council of Common Interests had decided in its meeting on Feb 29 last year that the census under the supervision of the armed forces at a man-to-man level was a pre-requisite to ensuring credibility, transparency and security of the operation.
It was feared that results of a census executed without the army’s involvement would not be accepted.
The census will be held in two phases. The first phase will begin on March 15 and continue till April 15 and the second from April 25 to May 25.
The government had through a statement assured the Supreme Court, which had taken suo motu notice of the delay in the population census, that it would be held from March 15.
The court had been informed that the troop requirement had been cut from the original 288,000 to 48,000 personnel to provide security to the civilian enumerators.
However, the army has now agreed to a number close to what had been initially sought.
Military sources said the troops might also serve as enumerators. “Enumeration is the main task,” an officer said. Another, however, said the army would be assisting the enumeration process.
The Inter-Services Public Relations statement clarified that the military’s engagement with census duties did not mean that counterterrorism operations would come to a halt. “Other security responsibilities” would continue, it said.
The first four censuses were held on time in 1951, 1961, 1972 and 1981.
However, the fifth got delayed because of abnormal growth in population noticed during the house listing operation carried out in 1990. The census was finally held in 1998 with the support of the armed forces and was broadly accepted by all political parties.
The sixth census has been due since 2008.
Published in Dawn January 28th, 2017