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Pakistan's Population Census Faces Controversy and Calls for Recount

Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) revealed that the country's population has surpassed 240 million.

by TNN Editor - 16 May, 2023 1560

Rifaqatullaf Razarwal

The recently concluded 7th population census in Pakistan has stirred controversy as provincial leadership in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh expressed reservations, alleging underrepresentation of their respective populations. These provinces have demanded a thorough recount to ensure accurate figures.

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the official census agency, the data collection process, which commenced on March 1 and concluded on May 12, revealed that the country's population has surpassed 240 million.

Punjab province has the highest population, with approximately 121.2 million residents. Sindh follows with 56.6 million, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including tribal districts) with 39.7 million, Balochistan with 20.8 million, and Islamabad's population stands at 2.3 million. Additionally, the census recorded a population of 5.9 million in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir combined.

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However, political leaders from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh have raised concerns regarding the accuracy of the recently-completed census. They argue that the government deliberately misrepresented the population figures, exacerbating a sense of deprivation among the smaller provinces.

Maulana Khanzeb, an Awami National Party worker from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's tribal districts, claimed that the population of his province had been intentionally understated. Despite notifying the authorities multiple times, he asserts that his concerns were disregarded.

Moreover, political parties and individuals have voiced widespread reservations about the census, primarily due to population displacement caused by ongoing conflicts and the prevailing security challenges in rural areas of the tribal districts. They argue that the census teams failed to access certain areas, resulting in an inaccurate representation of the population. Consequently, they fear that resource distribution will once again disadvantage these marginalized communities.

Maulana Khanzeb stressed the importance of considering these factors and called for a recount to alleviate doubts surrounding the census results.

Similarly, leaders from Balochistan expressed their refusal to accept the completed digital census, alleging that the government seeks to deny their constituents proper representation in parliament, political authority, and budget allocations.

Raza Muhammad, senior deputy chairman of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, criticized the government's use of the census as a political tool. He cited past instances where census figures appeared biased against the Pashtun community, noting discrepancies in the population count of Quetta.

Raza Muhammad called for the establishment of a commission to determine the annual growth rate, expressing concerns that populations in Punjab, Sindh, and even Indian immigrants have been overrepresented.

Chief Census Commissioner Naeem Al-Zafar recently decided that the field operation of the census could not be extended beyond May 15 due to its connection to the upcoming general elections.

Notably, the 2017 census recorded Pakistan's population as 207 million, with objections raised by political parties over the figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former tribal districts. The current controversy continues to cast doubts on the accuracy and representation of the population count.

In addition to the concerns expressed by political leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in Sindh province have also voiced their discontent with the census results. They threatened Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif with resignation from the National Assembly, prompting the Prime Minister to order the formation of committees to address the issue.

As calls for a recount persist, the completion of Pakistan's 7th population census remains shrouded in controversy, warranting a closer examination of the figures and a transparent evaluation of population data.

The demands for a recount by the leadership of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh provinces highlight the need to address concerns about underrepresentation and ensure fair resource distribution.

The allegations of deliberate misrepresentation further underscore the importance of an impartial and comprehensive review of the census process. With the formation of committees to investigate the matter, the outcome of this contentious issue awaits further deliberation and potential remedial actions to restore confidence in the accuracy of Pakistan's population census.