While rumours of the federal government yet again contemplating a possible delay in the census exercise after previously promising to hold it in March this year appear to be making rounds, at least out of the view of the public, a recent demand by the Balochistan Solidarity Jirga as well as a petition filed in the Supreme Court suggest that Pakistan would not accept any hollow assurances at this point. Calling for the inclusion of internally displaced persons, who had suffered in the wake of the worsening provincial order situation, in the upcoming census, the jirga has also emphasised upon a “fair deal” for the indigenous people, which would not be secured in the presence of Afghan refugees as shareholders. Petitioners in Islamabad, on the other hand, are fighting for an efficient documentation of persons with disabilities to effectively formulate policies that facilitate the provision of rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution.
Both the demands hold substantial ground as the national development — which is indeed taking place no matter what people may say — has definitely failed to embrace the two groups. Balochistan has largely suffered as a marginalised province in the last seven decades. Add that to the constant tug-of-war between the local Pashtuns and Balochs, which has greatly exacerbated the existential threat of domination by the foreign refugees, and the local opposition might not sound so far-fetched. As for the disabled Pakistanis, the shortcomings of the survey methodology employed in the 1998 census are still hotly contested by those who lament its significant impact upon the minuscule federal funding for their specialised resources. The abysmally low budgetary allocation for special education as well as that needed for specific treatment and rehabilitation centres (only three billion were earmarked in total for a population of over 30 million in 2014) clearly validates that we, as a state, are not yet willing to embrace these Pakistanis.
Whilst it is understood that under-represented groups should be given their due share in the national count in order to secure resources in proportion to their population, all this can only be achieved if Pakistan continues with its previously announced plans and conducts the census on its due date. Even though Pakistan Bureau of Statistics remains determined to hit the ground on March 15, 2017 — talking at length about the ground preparations — those citing the unavailability of armed personnel to supervise the population count as an excuse to further prolong the delay might find themselves some support in the deferment pleas by the Balochistan National Party.
It is quite unfortunate that despite the much-criticised delay since 1998, we are still stuck on the question of whether or not to hold an exercise of such high priority. The utmost importance with which administrations in other countries consider census collection as an impartial imperative to ensure both public and civic welfare should be enough to embarrass our authorities who have incessantly overlooked the issue. Shying away from a national exercise merely out of fears over possible loss of the respective vote banks as a consequence of evolving demographics is a move that neither complied with political values nor democratic ideals. Such an approach should not be employed by the ruling government, which can utilise this opportunity to improve its track record. Both the military and the civil leadership can make use of their respective capacities to overcome obstacles that might arise from army’s ongoing engagements. It is, thus, hoped that at least, this time, the authorities would not go back on their own commitment if not for the good of the country, for their own standing in the upcoming elections.