The preliminary findings of Pakistan’s 2011 census had been released recently, where it was stated that Pakistan’s population had grown 46.9 per cent for the period 1998-2011. While three districts had been excluded, Balochistan shows the highest increase of approximately 139.3 per cent, the top growth figure witnessed from all of the provinces.

Given the situation in Balochistan, these figures raise a lot of questions. As per the 2008 Pakistan Statistical Yearbook, 40 per cent of the province’s inhabitants speak Balochi, while 20 per cent speak Brahui, while Pushtoon speakers were estimated at 25 per cent. As Brahui-speakers are also grouped under the Baloch ethnicity, they would form the majority of Balochistan.

While the Pushtoons do hold significant numbers in the overall population, especially towards the North, the quoted figures of the new census give a new dimension to the demographics of the province — that of the Afghan refugees.

Pakistan has been the largest recipient of Afghan refugees, starting from the civil war to the Soviet occupation up until the Taliban days. Scattered over refugee camps all over Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the majority of them were unregistered and spilt over to urban centres all over the country.

Officially, Pakistan has inked an agreement with UNHCR, where it will allow 1.7 million Afghan refugees to reside in Pakistan till the end of 2012. UNHCR also states that the majority of Afghan refugees had been repatriated to their homeland. However, local sources say that those refugees once again entered Pakistan through Balochistan’s borders, and a large number of illegal immigrants now reside in the province.

Unofficially, it is stated that up to 4 million refugees inhabit the province. Through the loosely governed western border (more so in Balochistan), they are able to travel between Afghanistan and Pakistan with a relative amount of ease. The Insitute of Strategic Studies Islambad (ISSI) states that Afghan refugees, as a population chunk, are larger than the combined total of the three indigenous ethnic groups of Baloch, Brauhi and Pasthun, and also include settlers in the same count.

This has given rise to a lot of unease amongst nationalists as this not only effects their living conditions but also their livelihood. The labour class amongst those refugees have created competition due to their acceptance of lower wages, while the business class and the self-employed have affected the market of indigenous businessmen. Refugees are blamed for the drugs and arms culture which is now prevalent in the province.

The more financially sound refugees have been able to obtain National Identity Cards and a few have even purchased property in various parts of the province. While these refugees had traditionally been more prevalent in Quetta, its suburbs, and other Pushtun dominated areas, they have now also found their way into Baloch-dominated districts of Noshki and Dalbadin.

In relation to the undergoing census, the issue of Afghan refugees being included was raised various times. In the Balochistan Assembly, a parliamentarian had raised the issue to the attention of the Speaker of the Assembly, which was endorsed by other members as well.

However, no specific action has been taken to address the same.

Several nationalist political parties have also raised the issue over a number of forums and termed it a conspiracy against the Baloch. They claim that this is being done to marginalise ethnic Baloch as a minority in the province additionally stating that the displaced persons from Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Naseerabad and Jaffarabad had not yet been rehabilitated and would be excluded from the overall census.

Resistance groups, for the same reasons, have denied support to the census. In response, Army personnel were made to assist census officials for avoiding any unwanted circumstances.

The final figures under the census are to be confirmed between July 2013 to June, 2014, which is stated to be the period for its publication and dissemination. Only then will the actual position be determined when the area’s not accounted for will be included.

The census issue adds to the constant tussle between the Pakistani establishment and the Baloch nationalists and one wonders what role the final figures will play in the overall scenario.

The writer is a Multimedia Content Producer at Dawn.com

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