Pakistan: Census Complexities

07 Sep, 2017    ·   5358

Rana Banerji analyses the implications of the country's sixth population census

Rana Banerji
Rana Banerji
Distinguished Fellow
After a hiatus of 19 years, Pakistan has been able to undertake its sixth census enumeration only with the help of the army, which guaranteed security not only in difficult terrorism-hit areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but also in areas of endemic sectarian and ethnic conflict like Karachi.

Preliminary census findings reveal that Pakistan’s population has surged to a staggering 207.8 million (207,774,520), showing an increase of 75.4 million people from 1998, when the population was just over 130 million. When the census operation kept getting deferred due to security and political considerations, the World Bank and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had arrived at rough estimates, assessing Pakistan’s population being somewhere close to 197 million. The results have taken many by surprise, indicating an increase in population at an annual rate of 2.4 per cent annual growth rate (a.g.r.). This abnormally high growth rate should be a matter of concern for all serious population planners.

The census figures do not include any data for Gilgit Baltistan (earlier known as Northern Areas) or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK; referred to in Pakistan as Azad Jammu & Kashmir). Though the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) did conduct enumeration there, the data has not been made public, ostensibly due to their special (read 'disputed') status.

Rural-Urban Divide
The summary results show that the country’s predominant majority – 132.189 million or 63.6 per cent – still lives in rural areas. This ratio was 65.6 per cent in 1998. The urban population now stands at 75.58 million, which is roughly 36.4 per cent of the country’s population. In 1998, the share of the urban population was 32.52 per cent. The urban population may grow to 40 per cent by 2050 if existing growth rates continue. 30 million people were added to the urban population. Another 112 million would be added by 2050. The growing urbanisation reflects a world-wide trend.

Gender Ratio and Literacy
The male-female ratio was found to be close to the world average of 51:49, coming down slightly from 52:48 in 1998. Literacy data has not been made public so far. In 1998, for males it stood at 54.8  per cent and for females, at 43.02 per cent.

Punjab now has 52.9 per cent (down from 55 per cent in 1998) of Pakistan’s total population (110,012,442; a.g.r.: 2.13 per cent). Sind remains unchanged with 23 per cent (47,886,051; a.g.r.: 2.4 per cent). Population growth has been highest in Balochistan (12,344,408; a.g.r.: 3.37 per cent), followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (30,523,371; a.g.r.: 2.89 per cent).The lowest population growth (1.81 per cent) was witnessed in rural Punjab - urbanisation might have had a greater role to play here. FATA is now shown to have 5,001,676 persons (not clear if currently displaced; in camps elsewhere in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa enumerated under FATA, the a.g.r. was 2.41 per cent). Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) has 2,006,572 people now (a.g.r.: 4.91 per cent).

These changes will have important repercussions in the distribution of resources and allocation of national assembly seats. Article 51(3) of the constitution will have to be amended in light of Article 51(5), which mandates the allocation of seats on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published. This would mean up to eight fewer seats for Punjab in the 342-member National Assembly with 5-6 more seats for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and almost 3 more for Balochistan.

The next National Finance Commission (NFC) award will have to be announced, with Punjab having to compromise slightly (a 3.3 per cent reduction of its share) in favour of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Internally displaced tribals and Afghan refugees have added huge numbers in both Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Quetta division alone has shown an almost tripling of the population, from 1.72 million to 4.2 million. Pashtuns may now exceed Baloch in Balochistan, making them numerical losers in their own province. Census data shows a phenomenal decease in their (Baloch) proportion in  northern parts of the province - 2.1 per cent decrease in Zhob and Nasirabad, 1.6 per cent in Kalat division, 1.6 per cent in Sibi, and 0.6 per cent in Makran. In Punjab, Lahore and several other satellite towns like Gujranwala have shown phenomenal growth. There was a lower growth in the Seraiki belt due to out-migration.

Though its overall population share has not changed, Sindh is in a special quandary. It is the most urbanised province with 52.2 per cent of the population in urban areas – this result could disturb the rural-urban quotas of provincial assembly seats and jobs. More resources, jobs, and representation would have to be provided for urban areas. Rural Sindh is going to lose some representation. Urban Sindh is increasingly becoming non-Urdu speaking, with settlers’ onslaught of both Pashtuns from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, as also the natural influx of Sindhis from rural areas of the province. 68 per cent of Sind’s total population is concentrated in three major cities – Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur.

Though Karachi’s population growth has been stymied by bloody ethnic politics, lawlessness and the prolonged Rangers’ operations, its overall population increased by 60 per cent. The greater the growth of population in Karachi, the worse will be the loss of the numerical strength of Mohajirs. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which represents mainly Sindhi rights, will fight against the perceived ‘bias’ of under-representing Sindhis. The Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), now split into several factions, will be reluctant to concede ground to Pashtuns or Sindhis in greater Karachi urban agglomeration. The Awami National Party (ANP) led by Shahi Syed, and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) will contest support from new Pashtun settlers.

The preliminary census figures have been referred to the Council for Common Interests (CCI), a statutory body under the 1973 constitution. The CCI has now decided that the figures will be further debated in the Inter-Provincial Coordination Committee (IPCC) to devise a strategy about future policy on job quotas, fund allocation and the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) plan of action to adjust/delimit constituencies afresh. The ECP had earlier informed the government that it may hold the next general election on the basis of the new census results if they are finalised in time. The million dollar question now is, when will these changes happen?