After, three years, the results of the National Census 2017 were approved by the federal cabinet on Tuesday, which is an indication of how contentious the exercise has been. The cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, decided to send the census report to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) for the provinces to sign off on.
On the other hand, the cabinet also proposed that the exercise be conducted every three years instead of decennially as mandated by the Constitution. Meanwhile, the MQM, which earlier had emphatically rejected the results but is now an ally of the PTI government, submitted a dissent note.
A periodic census is essential for running the country. Providing a detailed socioeconomic picture, it guides governments in framing policies and allocating funds for them. With various distortions having crept into the political arena, the holding of the census itself has become a fraught undertaking.
Every census conducted in Pakistan since independence has been controversial but the latest one seems set to take the cake. The 2017 census was held only after the Supreme Court ordered it. This exercise by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the constitution of the PBS governing council raised a number of misgivings especially among the smaller provinces and the results were widely disputed.
Aside from other controversies, the census was conducted without a pilot survey and not followed up by a post-enumeration survey. Overall, the census has raised more questions than it has answered. A flawed census, in a country already riven with ethnic and religious fault lines, stokes further dissent and alienation.
Every major party, including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamat-e-Islami (JI), has rejected the census results. MQM’s Khalid Maqbool fears that the Cabinet’s move might push the party to disassociate themselves from the Imran Khan-led government.
The government has to take effective steps in this regard because the 6 seats of MQM Pakistan are very important for the government at a time when the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is at the peak. The government should also address the concerns of its allies and try to resolve issues amicably. The census-taking process itself must be revisited and amended to ensure a transparent and credible exercise.