IN Balochistan, before the census began, it was believed that the results of the exercise in the province would lead to a hue and cry among the Baloch. However, they were not as irked as expected. For in the lead-up to the census, the question on every Baloch tongue was: are we going to turn into a minority in our own province?
Disaggregated results of the percentage of ethnic and minority groups in Balochistan are awaited, but the provisional results released make it very clear that the Baloch are still a majority group in the province.
These results also demonstrate that the population of Quetta city has increased manifold. Within a span of 19 years, it has jumped from 700,000 to about 2.2 million. This should be cause for concern for both local Baloch and Pakhtuns in Quetta. While the city in the 1980s — during the Afghan ‘jihad’ next door — had started to resemble a mini Kandahar because the latter’s politics and culture were being transferred to Quetta, Kandahar today looks like a mini Quetta because of the population explosion in the latter.
It is an open secret that Afghans in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan have acquired CNICs. Moreover, in the past the Hazara Shias used to own the key businesses in the city, but that is not the case any longer. Hundreds of Hazara have lost their lives in sectarian killings; this has not only restricted them to their secured enclaves but spurred many of them to migrate to Australia. Today, it is Afghans who own businesses in Quetta. More than the local Baloch, this has repercussions for the Pakhtuns who have for centuries lived in the city. It is highly likely that in the near future they (Afghans) will gain control over the resources of Pakhtuns in Balochistan.
Quetta’s Pakhtuns should be concerned about the census results.
Unlike in the past, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), the largest Pakhtun nationalist party in Balochistan, now supports and refers to Afghan refugees as their brethren. They also wanted them to be included in the census while the Baloch nationalists adamantly opposed the move.
Historically, the Baloch and Pakhtun leaderships have together struggled for the rights of the people of Balochistan, but their differences have driven them apart. Over the decades, these differences have taken the shape of rivalry. Ironically, the PkMAP was in favour of the census, but is opposing it after the provisional results despite the fact that they show the Pakhtun population as having increased compared to the Baloch.
Baloch nationalists also are opposed to the census because, according to them, many Baloch have left their homes since the beginning of the fifth Baloch insurgency in 2000 and moved to neighbouring districts in Sindh and Punjab provinces. There are thus a great number of Baloch internally displaced people. It was this that prompted Balochistan’s former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch to write to the federal government to cancel the holding of the census in the province until or unless the Baloch IDPs return to their native places.
The security establishment, however, is taking the credit for successfully conducting the census without much of an uproar in Balochistan. Here, it is worth mentioning that the voter turnout in the 2013 general elections was at an all-time low in Balochistan. That is why the security establishment did not want the conviction of hard-line Baloch that they’d be turned into a minority group in the province to be proved correct. Baloch separatists had also asked the Baloch not to participate in the census. Had the Baloch proved to be a minority group, it would have served the interests of the hard-liners.
Interestingly, although various Baloch factions, particularly the Balochistan National Party-Mengal and the National Party had publicly opposed the census, they had privately exhorted their workers and the overall Baloch population to take part because a boycott could have proved disastrous for their political survival. They are already apprehensive about the demographic changes that CPEC and related Chinese investments in Balochistan will bring to the province. Meanwhile, the census appears to have proven false the claim by Baloch nationalists that there are three million Afghan refugees in Balochistan.
Lastly, Balochistan is a multi-ethnic province: its population in the previous 1998 census comprised 55 per cent Baloch and 30pc Pakhtun with the remainder including Hazargi-, Urdu-, Punjabi-, Sindhi-, Seraiki-, and Persian-speaking groups. While it is time the state utilised census data for better development of its largest province, this census data, as previously, is likely to pit ethnic groups in the province against each other, particularly the Baloch and the Pakhtuns.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2017