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The numbers game

Published Mar 18, 2017 07:08am


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WHO wants to be PM? Not me, for sure. I keep a mental list of jobs I’d hate to have, and Pakistan’s prime minister — or all-powerful dictator, for that matter — is at the very top.

Consider: we are a country of 200 million people mired in ignorance and poverty; the infrastructure is stretched beyond breaking point; we are bedevilled with internal and external problems, mostly of our own making; and we define ourselves more by sectarian and ethnic markers than we do as Pakistanis.

So who would wish to run this circus? Plenty of people, apparently. As though we didn’t have enough internal divisions already, Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-based Awami National Party, has just written to the prime minister to complain about the treatment of Pakhtuns living in Punjab.

The background to the alleged racial profiling of Pakhtuns in Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad is the recent spate of suicide bombings. According to security forces, the perpetrators were Pakhtuns of Pakistani or Afghan origin, and the Jamaatul Ahrar — the group that has claimed responsibility — is based in Afghanistan.

In retaliation, Pakistan has closed border crossings, and launched a dragnet aimed at Pakhtun housing colonies in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Who would wish to run this circus?

Earlier, in the wake of the horrific attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, many Afghan refugees were pushed out. Apart from waking dormant separatist tendencies, these moves also threaten already fraying ties with our north-western neighbour.

As it is, our national identity is a fragile thing. Some 45 years ago, it was undone by Bengali resolve to forge a separate destiny. In the mid-1970s, it was tested by Baloch separatism that has resurfaced in recent years. Jeeay Sindh was another potent voice, and the MQM once clamoured loudly for autonomy verging on independence.

Many of these forces appear to be stirring again after being prodded by a fear of the results of the long-delayed census. They have good reason for concern, as the 2017 census will overturn many assumptions about demography and power.

Consider its implications for Sindh: between the census of 1981 and 1998, figures show that the percentage of the province’s Urdu-speaking population fell from 24.1pc to 21pc, while the number of Sindhis rose from 55.7pc to 59pc in the same period. Over the last 19 years, many Pakhtuns, Punjabis and Baloch have migrated to urban Sindh for economic and security reasons.

This migration, together with lower birth rates among Mohajirs, could translate into fewer parliamentary seats for the MQM, and alter the power dynamics of the province. In Balochistan, there are concerns that there has been a steady increase in the number of Afghans in the northern part of the province. Many reportedly obtained Pakistani identity cards, thus being eligible to be registered as citizens in the census. This has alarmed the Baloch as the new numbers would call for a redrawing of the electoral map of the province.

Punjab also has reason to be concerned by the census. Rapid urbanisation will result in less rural seats and, thus, reduced clout for the established feudal families that have called the shots for years. And higher birth rates in the smaller provinces will reduce Punjab’s lion’s share of the country’s resources and civil service jobs. A rise in numbers in southern Punjab might well revive the demand for a Seraiki province.

The census will cause changes in the allocation of resources as well as parliamentary seats, so there will be winners and losers. And, as we know all too well, there are few good losers when it comes to money and power.

Already, Balochistan has demanded a delay in the census until the Afghans in the province leave. But if we wait for this to happen we might have to leave it till the next century. Traditionally, there has always been a significant Afghan presence in both Balochistan and KP, and since 9/11 it is believed to have grown considerably.

In most countries, a census is seen as a routine administrative exercise held periodically. But in Pakistan, it becomes a contentious struggle for power carried out to further certain interests in the eyes of those directly affected. This is why the army has been deployed in large numbers to ensure security for the enumerators.

The MQM sees the census as a weapon being used to cut the party down to size. The Baloch view it as an instrument to make them a minority in their own province. For feudal landlords, the whole exercise is a means to deprive them of their traditional power.

Given these apprehensions, we can expect howls of protests and accusations of foul play. After all, if politicians don’t accept elections as being fair, why would they endorse census findings? See why I don’t want to be the PM?

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (9) Closed

aga Khan Mar 18, 2017 08:47am

Many thanks for clarifications - here, my so many friends and I were wondering why in Pakistan, you need military to do census.

ENIGMA Mar 18, 2017 08:50am

The PML-N leadership should have implemented a nation and region-wide public relations campaign in all the major languages so the populace would not protest against the census taking - which apparently is happening in some parts of the country. It's vital for Pakistan's national security as well to have an accurate database of all the various population sectors within the country, and such a census should take place every 3-5 years.

Hmm! Mar 18, 2017 09:08am

No worries, no one will vote for you

K SHESHU BABU Mar 18, 2017 11:52am

Hopefully, the census would reveal the real numbers of people living in poverty, refugees and minorities so that the government can allocate resources for the welfare of the people and plan financial needs.

BAXAR Mar 18, 2017 12:49pm

"I keep a mental list of jobs I’d hate to have, and Pakistan’s prime minister — or all-powerful dictator, for that matter — is at the very top." If you're afraid of the challenges that were elaborated, you should not be looking for a position that you don't consider suited for you. Wish those who run for these positions would learn from you.

Parvez Mar 18, 2017 01:22pm

So what you are saying is that a TRUE census is an exercise to get to the truth and if you establish the truth, the status quo would have to change......and heaves can fall but that will not be allowed to happen. I completely agree with you.

Nasiroski Mar 18, 2017 07:35pm

One word come to mind mistrust. If you really love them, set them free.

pathanoo Mar 18, 2017 08:53pm

Excellent article. Well analyzed and unbiased.

jawaid Mar 19, 2017 06:49am

Leadership means facing and tackling efficiently and successfully the challenges. Pakistan has survived and doing excellent despite all these.