ISLAMABAD: As the controversy over provisional census results lingers on, the government has convened a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) on Monday (Nov 13) in a bid to resolve the issue and pave the way for the 2018 general elections to be held on time.

The disclosure was made by Law Minister Zahid Hamid on a question by Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani as the former wound up discussion on the issue on the Senate floor.

“The government is keen to get [the delimitation bill] through and wants to hold elections on time,” he said in an apparent response to accusations that the government was dragging its feet in a bid to delay the polls.

Seeking lawmakers’ assistance in giving the exercise the credibility it “deserved”, he termed various parties’ reservations over the census “misplaced” and offered to arrange a briefing session for senators with the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

Statistics bureau to brief senators today; upper house takes up Hazaras’ migration issue

The proposal was instantly accepted and the briefing will be held on Friday (today).

“It appears that the basis for various allegations is 2011 data, which is unreliable and has been discarded,” he remarked.

Talking about objections regarding Karachi’s population being shown as less than that of Lahore, he said this phenomenon was easily explained.

In 2015, the Punjab government had notified all of Lahore district, along with two union councils of Kasur, as part of urban Lahore, while the boundaries of Karachi had remained the same as in 1998.

He said the average annual growth rate of Karachi was lower than that of Lahore and pointed out that all projections by international organisations were quite close to the actual results.

He also explained the principles followed during the census process, saying that the boundaries notified by the provinces had been strictly followed.

He said the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had also been involved in the process and as many as 6.2 million text messages had been sent for doubtful or suspicious cases.

He said Afghan refugees had also been counted as non-Pakistanis. “It’s a pity that there are reservations over a census carried out after a delay of 19 years,” he remarked.

When Chairman Rabbani asked if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was planning to go to the court over the issue of delimitation, the law minister said they might approach the court to seek guidelines, since they could not ignore the census.

The minister said the ECP had indicated it might go to court if parliament failed to pass an amendment to provide for delimitations on the basis of provisional results.

Noting that the blame should not be placed at parliament’s door, Mr Rabbani wondered why the ECP did not invoke Article 220 of the Constitution, under which all executive authorities of the federation and the provinces are bound to assist it in the discharge of its duties.

He said that under Article 219 of the Constitution, it was the responsibility of the ECP to conduct elections for the national and provincial assemblies, besides local government polls.

Hazara migration

During Question Hour, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar also likened the Hazaras of Balochistan to the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, saying that both were forced to flee their countries in desperation.

Speaking on a calling-attention notice on the plight of the Hazara community, he said that if one was a Hazara, he/she was marked for assassination. Even Hazara police personnel had been killed as a warning that anyone who protected the community would meet the same fate.

He said that Hazaras had been fleeing to Indonesia and Malaysia, where they sought to travel by sea to Australia and New Zealand in search of safe havens.

Lately, the government of Australia had placed newspaper advertisements announcing that it would no longer accept refugees arriving by boat. The Hazaras fleeing Balochistan were destined to meet the fate of Rohingya Muslims and become fish food, he said.

He said it was unfortunate that the plight of Hazaras was neither on parliament’s radar, nor on a priority for political parties, adding that they had been left to fend for themselves.

“We have been raising our voice for the Rohingya but not for the Hazara,” he said, calling for the constitution of a special Senate committee to address the issue.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2017

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