Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais
Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais

ACCORDING to the provisional figures of the sixth national census conducted in May, Pakistan’s population today stands at 207.77 million with an annual growth rate of 2.4 per cent.

The census, conducted after 19 years, shows that the Islamabad Capital Territory has witnessed the highest population growth rate of 4.91pc. Balochistan has a growth rate of 3.37pc, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 2.89pc, Sindh 2.41pc and Punjab 2.13pc.

It also shows that the number of females is lower, at 101.3m, than males, at 106.449m.

We spoke to Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), to assess what these basic population figures mean for the development of the country. Here is what he says.

Q: What will be the impact of this result of the sixth census?

A: Well, in the first place, this census is a great effort which was conducted after 19 years. It’s very important to have numbers of population for development of the country but unfortunately the previous governments failed to organise a census. So this successful attempt itself will leave a huge impact on our future development.

Q: Do you think these numbers are accurate?

A: These are very accurate numbers. These were gathered through a comprehensive exercise. These are much larger than I had estimated.

Q: So what is the most significant element of these new population figures?

A: The movement towards urban areas is very significant. But we need to see how have they defined the urban centres; whether they have included towns and tehsil headquarters having population of 20,000 to 70,000 in urban centres. There are many such towns in districts like Rahim Yar Khan, so we need to assess it closely. But generally this trend will impact national development, and social and political scene in the coming years.

Q: How will this trend impact society?

A: It will leave its impact in many ways but the most significant will be the change of political dynasty and opinion. Pakistan is the largest urban growing country in South Asia. So besides other changes, I think the most important will be that people will come out of the shackles of the feudal and political lords in rural areas. I think, by shifting to urban centres, they will incline towards political parties and other social systems instead of ‘pirs’ and ‘waderas’, which I think is very positive.

Q: Why has Lahore grown so rapidly and why did we not see a huge increase in Karachi’s population as estimated before the census?

A: There are several factors but the main factor is development and unrest. Karachi has been hostage to unrest for several decades. Hold of an ethnic party, the MQM, over the city for many years has impacted negatively. Though many people came to Karachi after things got worst in Fata, a constant law and order situation in the city itself forced many others to leave this city as well. Then the Pakhtun people, they are now having more opportunities in Balochistan, Punjab and other areas, so it helped them to shift to areas other than Karachi.

As far as Lahore’s growth is concerned, this city has seen more development and industrialisation during the past decade. So the trend of a population pull towards this city is obvious.

Q: How the difference in male and female population growth will translate in the development of the country?

A: The population of women is higher in many countries of the world and South Asia. But these results have shown that the number of women is still considerably lower than men in Pakistan, which I take as a healthy sign. It will ensure social and development stability in Pakistan in view of the cultural trends of the country. But then it depends on the facilities we provide to our population — facilities such as education and health. We should provide these basic facilities to our women as they can play their role in national development.

Q: How will these results impact the distribution of resources among the federating units and electoral colleges?

A: Of course there will be redistribution of funds, but I don’t see a major increase in assembly seats. It may change political dynamics because the constituencies will be readjusted according to the latest population figures, but assembly seats will remain the same.

Q: Any other comment which you want to make?

A: These figures are tentative. So we need to wait until the exact figures are released. We still need to see what are linguistic populations. So a lot depends upon the release of the final figures.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2017

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