(Courtesy Frontier Post- April 24-25, 2010)
By Jan Assakzai
Though the official number of Pakhtuns in Pakistan constitutes 15 percent of country's population, some NGOs and observers believe that their actual number could be between 40 to 50 million comprising over 35 percent of country's population, provided and "ethnic" demographic is carried out instead of "linguistic" census. The main reason for Pakhtuns' under counting is the census only choice: spoken-language-at home-principle whilst there is no racial or ethnic background choices available in the census form as is the case in multi-cultural countries like the United State or United Kingdom.
Due to under counting, Pakhtuns in state intuitions including Pakistan's army, are under represented and getting disproportionately less share in other divisible national assets. The under counting of Pakhtuns in FATA, Karachi, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is much pronounced phenomenon, meaning unless fair head count of Pakhtuns is ensured in any future census, the adverse situation of under counting and under-representation of the community will remain for many years to come. Pakistan has been due to carry out a census since 2007 and no one knows when the exercise will actually materialise.
Why fair census is critical for Pakhtuns, is because representation to legislative bodes , federal institutions, and division of assets are made on the basis of head count. Before the myth of Pakistan's official head count- Pakhtuns being 15 percent of country's population- is challenged, a common observer needs to understand the broader perspective in which census take place in the country, hence the digression:
First, a part from census irregularities which are common in third word countries like Pakistan, the striking discrepancy is that in order to determine one's race and ethnic background, only language choice is available in census: In census the main criteria is the- first- language- you-speak at-home principle that will determine who you are racially and ethnically. And why is it a problem is because ( due to establishment's social engineering policy-"Urdunisation" of Pakhtuns and other minorities, at the expense of Pakhtu and other languages, as part of its goal to realise "one nationhood project") significant number of Pakhtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, part of Balochistan, Karachi and Punjab-may no longer speak Pakhtu fluently and instead speak Urdu, English, Brahvi,Balochi, besides, creeping Siriaki in Attock and Mianwali. Yet these non- Pakhtu- speaking-Pakhtuns identify themselves as Pakhtuns in every day lives, which practically means they are ethnically Pakhtuns, though they did not tick Pakhtu language box in the census form. Thus due to lack of racial and ethnic choices in the census form, they are counted and and coded as Urdu-speaking, Hindko speaking, Siriaki speaking, Balochi or Punjabi speaking population,instead.
Put it simply, otherwise Pakhtuns are counted in the census form as non-Pakhtuns because of the different language they speak at home. Contrasting with other parts of the world, for example, in the UK and the US, origin and ethnicity is mainly taken in to account. In UK, the third generation of British Pakistanis or British ndians, speak only English as first language at home, yet they have to pick racial or ethnic choices in census: if they are Asian, British Asian, Pakistani Asian, Indian Asian, Bengali Asian etc. Others have to show if they preferred to be white, Irish, Scots, Irish and so on. Even in the forms of their doctors surgery, they have to declare ethnicity, or racial identity. Where as in America, race and ethnicity were part of the recently concluded Census: one has to declare if he/she is White, Caucasian, German decent, German American, African American, Spanish American etc. So only spoken-language-at home- principle census/ or "linguistic" demographic in Pakistan precludes the possibility of genuine Pakhtun head count.
Second, since due to lack of racial and ethnic background choices in census (you can not tick a box saying you are Pakhtun or any other group, or your origin is Afghan, Persian etc,) individuals are forced to deliberately forget about their heritage, and giving the message: they can not have a multiple identities. But in a globalised world
you might have more than one identity; for example, an Irishman can have as many as 10 identities, simultaneously. You might be an Irish in Britain, a Roman Catholic in Belfast, a British in other part of the World, a White, a Caucasian in Africa, depending where he/she is at the time of identifying him/herself; so no body has the right to force you to emphasize on only one identity i.e. Britishness or Irishness etc.
Third, the existing census choice is language only because it is the poor copy of India. However, the Indian model does not apply to Pakistan for simple reason: firstly, their political system is not pre-dominated by one particular ethnic group as the case of Punjab in Pakistan. Secondly, India has no national language- Hindi and English are official languages -to be imposed on other languages.(The individual states can legislate in their own regional languages- which are also official languages in those regions- depending on their linguistic demographics; for example, the state of Tamil Nadu has Tamil as sole official language; the state of Kanataka has Kannada as sole official language; while the Indian-held state of Jammu and Kashmir has Kashmiri, Urdu and Dogri as its official languages ( Indian constitution). But in Pakistan there is a disconnect between linguistic identity and ethnic identity: only Urdu is national language -English is official language - hence increasing "Urdunisation" of Pakhtuns at the cost of their own language. The fear is: increasing number of Pakhtuns would be losing their own language and would be ticking- in "linguistic" census- the box of other-than- Pakhtu language, inadvertently, boosting the strength of other ethnic groups.
Supposedly, If every 10 years census is held, who knows, one day all Pakhtuns might loose Pakhtu to Urdu-or to any other language provided where they live and in the neighbourhood of which other community- and , for example, be classed and coded as Urdu-speaking community in the census data. The same may be true of other ethnic groups who's languages are being ignored.
Fourth, In Pakistan numbers have historically played a big role: much of Pakistan's pre-1971 history must be understood in terms of ruling elites' efforts to deny East Pakistanis (Bengalis) of their demographic majority. This was achieved through such devices as One Unit Scheme designed to give parity between a united West Pakistan province (existing Pakistan) -45 percent minority- and East Pakistan ( Now Bangladesh) -55 percent majority. It was also a factor in deciding the 1958 coup and thus pre-empted the possibility of a Bengali-dominated government at the Centre. In today's Pakistan, census numbers count and ensures that national power lies in the most populous province of Punjab- first to win national power-a party must posses a power base in Punjab. Punjab's numerically strength in census data, ensures Punjabi military, administrative, economic and demographic predominance hence adding up to "Punjabisation" of Pakistan, (Ian Talbot-Pakistan: Nationalism without a nation?, 2002).
Fifth, It has been very cleverly argued- by the right wing intellectuals and political parties predominately drawing support from Punjab- that the census choice of race and ethnicity tend to perpetuate ethnic divisions while the "linguistic"- census- choice do not cause linguistic division. But it is absurd argument as currently ethnic background is determined by "linguistic" demographic . However, census can not hide its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich but must record as accurately as possible facts as
they exist and there is no question of the non-existence of ethnic identities which are reflected at present in political constituencies, provinces' ethnic identities. And worse still, denying people to express their both identifies, makes, by default, less people think about their rich heritage.
Sixth, since over 90 percent of resources in Pakistan are distributed according to population, there is every incentive for a given administration to exaggerate the number of majority ethnic group that enjoys political monopoly: in Karachi, Urdu speaking community controls the power levers in the administration, hence will be tempted to reduce the size of other major ethnic groups like Pakhutns, Punjabi etc, to avoid any redistricing of Karachi and distribution of resources. The same is true in Balochistan where Baloch- dominated administration would like to maintain their numerically superiority over Pakhtuns at all cost even if that requires fraudulent census .Overwhelmingly- Punjab dominated federal and provincial administration will have a natural bias to exaggerate Punjab's population so as to ensure its overwhelming representation in the the federal institutions. As such there is no mechanism in the country that ensures transparent census and redress complaints.The case in point is of Pakhtun political forces in Balochistan who boycotted 1998 census due to flawed census arrangements, whilst the federal government instead of redressing their complaint, went for readjusting Pakhtuns' head count on the basis of previously held flawed census in the province, meaning Pakhtuns' under representation in legislative bodies and regional jobs, putting a serious question mark on the whole census data.
Seventh, there is no data as to to how much was the Pakhtun participation rate in 1998 census whereas in the developed countries like the United State the national average participation rate in census is around 56 percent and it is taken into account while making policy choices in addressing the problems of struggling racial and ethnic groups. (Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2010).
Eight, punditry professionals and and other chattering classes in Pakistan- even some Pakhun intellectuals and NGOs- base their analysis about Pakhtuns' participation in Pakistani institutions on the basis of this controversial official census figure. Western researchers, world renowned not-profit Think Tanks like Carnegie Endowment for EInternational Peace, RAND Corporation and the Jamestown Foundation in the United States treat Pakistan's official head count of Pakhtuns as "Gospel truth", whilst shaping policy choices of the US administration including policies on Tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Nine, Pakhtun political parties, intelligentsia and civil society are facing a challenge to impress upon the government to have race and ethnic choices in the census forms /or ensures ethnic census along side the language choice, to avoid being complicit , by default, with the government in under counting and under representing Pakhtun community in Pakistan's state institutions and forcing them to live with a meager share in national divisible assets, possibly for decades to come.
Coming back to the under counting of Pakhtuns in census of Pakistan, why these observers estimate Pakhtun population between 40 to 50 million- not 25 million as purported by the flawed official census figures-constituting over 30 percent instead of 15 percent, because:
1.FATA: the lest accurate head count of Pakhtuns is in Tribal areas-FATA. According to 1998 official figures, FATA's population stands around 3 million, even misleading CIA's so called Factbook. But what is the true picture of FATA's population: some international observers believe the Pakhtuns in Fata could be more that 6 million (Trouble in the tribal areas: Asia Times) whereas Pakhtun intelligentsia , Waziristan watchers and some NGO's who work in the area put the number between 8 to 10 million. Because the tribal people have reasons to have increased population growth: Firstly, according to Waziristan watchers, the average size of a family runs between 7 to 12 for tribal people- male offspring is more desirable. Secondly, in Tribal areas polygamy-simultaneously having more that one wives- is more common, a phenomenon that is relatively widespread in tribal people in other parts of the world. Thirdly, tribal people due to a tribal custom most likely do not divulge the real number of women to outsiders including census officials. A fact even the government of Pakistan it self admits on it official website, (http://www.fata.gov.pk/subpages/population.php), "Census reporting in FATA is likely to have been distorted by problems in gathering data, since tribal custom forbids the disclosure of information about women to outsiders". Fourthly, people of tribal areas have no political entities/parties as politics is banned so who bothers to raise objection over head counting. Waziristan watchers do not agree with the official birth rate of roughly 3 percent and suspect it might be in the vicinity of 5-6 percent. Few Maliks picked by notorious political agents, sent to the Parliament, are in fact play the same role as they did during British times; the British used these Maliks as "Collaborators"- intermediately between the British colonial rule represented by political agents, on one hand, and the people of tribal areas, on the other hand. The people of tribal areas even did not know that they were under the direct rule of the British Raj. These MNA's Senator Maliks do not represent the aspirations of the people and only act as "collaborators" between the political agent and tribal people, (FATA is Pakistan's wild west and the least
accessible areas in the world.It is "law less" area-in exception to draconian FCR, a colonial legacy of British Raj ).They can not object to any deprivation let along under counting in census; hence, the people of FATA face worst kind of under representation in Pakistan's state institutions and have been rendered effectively voiceless and helpless to articulate their grievances.
2. Karachi: Karachi hosts the largest concentration of urban Pakhtun population surpassing Peshawar, Quetta or any other city even in Afghanistan. Some estimate put the numbers of Pakhtuns in Karachi to 7 million out of 17 million resident population of Karachi ( "Front Line World"-Focus- a report produced in association with the New York Times). As per the old census of Pakistan in 1998, the distribution of national languages within the city was: Urdu (48.52%), Punjabi (13.94%), Pakhto (11.42%), Sindhi (7.22%), Balochi (4.34%), Saraiki (2.11%). Such census were conducted on first language based principle severly disguising the actual number of those Pakhtuns who have lost fluency in Pakhtu and speak Urdu. According to 7 million figure, Pakhtuns are over 40 per cent of the population but the "linguistic" census reduce their number to less than 20 per cent assuming the total number of residents in Karachi are around 17 million. Even if Pakhtuns are 20 percent, redistricting of Pakhtun dominated areas in Karachi have been very cleverly done in a way that they become minority in geographical seats predominated by Urdu speaking population as a result Paktuns can not have a single in National Assembly, becoming disproportionately under represented in state bodies, at provincial and federal levels.
3.Balochistan: Following the boycott of 1998 census by nationalist forces, there was a substantial controversy over whether the government should adjust census figures based on the previous census which was also marred by census irregularities, Pakhtuns strongly reacted to this injustice when any increase or decrease in the head count had a an affect on redistricting/remarking of legislative seats and division of assets in Balochistan. The controversy was political as significant number of Pakhtuns feared that under the biased -Baloch administration, it was not possible to hold fair head count of Pakhtuns hence they boycotted it. But the then Federal Minister Sartaj Aziz ignored the plea of those Pakhtuns and adjusted the population figure of Pakhtun areas including Quetta, decreasing the representation of Pakhtuns in legislative bodies and job quotas in the Province for decade or so. It is pertinent to say that in the United State, the State of Utah filled a petition on the ground that its 857 missionaries on foreign trips, were not counted and as such t they lost a fourth congressional seat in Washington.(2000 US Census date). Officially, Pakhtuns are in the region of 30 percent of the population but their numbers is above 7 million and are over 50 percent.One UNICEF official once told me that his organisation had administered 1.5 million polio drops to children alone in Quetta so the actual population of Quetta can be between 2.5 to 3 million, besides, Pakhtuns residing in more that 20 cities, town centres and villages in Baluchistan. Since the Baloch dominated government controls power levers, it even over counted the size of its nomadic population as found by a group of researchers ( Feb 26, 2006 DAWN) in 1972 census. Subsequent data would have to be synchronised with the exaggerated 1972 census of Baloch population.
4. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: the 1998 census put the number of Pakhtuns around 18 million in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, yet, Pakhtuns are also under counted in many ways: if you ask some one what is the first language you speak at home, many Pakhtuns will tell Hinko or Siriaki, or Urdu. The point which is often missed while discussing the ratio of Pakhtuns and non-Pakhtun population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is that comparatively more Pakhtuns tend to forget their fluency in Pakhtu or tend to forget their language all togather over a period of time."Thus Pakhtun tribes like Jadoons, Tareens, Pannis, Swatis, Yousafzais, etc. inhabiting Hazara division have forgotten their Pashto and now speak Hindko. The Miankhels, Gandapurs, Nasirs, Kundis, etc., living in Dera Ismail Khan are Pakhtun tribes but most are either bilingual or speak Seraiki rather than Pashtu. A number of Hindko speakers in Peshawar and certain other urban centres of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are originally Pakhtuns but over a period of time due to migration and integration with other people they have forgotten their mother tongue", writes Rahimullah Yousufzai- a luminous Pakhtun journalist and writer,( in the News/Jang Newspaper of Pakistan).
Secondly, language based census would reduce the number Pakhtuns as against ethnicity based census. Thirdly, some Pakhutns in rural areas of Khyber Pakhtunkwha-the heartland of Pakhtuns, tend not to disclose the number of female households. Fourthly, the census did not take into account the migrating population from FATA . Fifth, reserve estimate puts the number of Pakhtuns between 21 to 25 million as opposed to the official figures.If a-guess-on- the- hand- calculation of Pakhtuns' population is done, the conservative estimate will come to around 45 million, forget about the pakhtun population in Punjab and rural Sind. However, a certain number of Pakhtuns independent journalist working in the West- with organisations like, BBC, VOA, Dewa- writers, and researchers associated with different think tanks in Washington and London have a consensus figure of around 40 million for Pakhtuns in Pakistan as against official 25 million figure.So if fair and "ethnic" census is carried out the satisfaction of Pakhtuns today, the following myths would explode:
A, that FATA's Pakhtun population is 3 million.
B, that Pakhtuns in Karachi are nearly 20 percent of the population, according to 1998.
C, that Pakhtuns in Baluchistan are merely 30 percent of the total population.
D, that Ethnic Pakhtuns in Hazara Division, and Dera Ismael Khan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Attock and Mianwali of Punjab and Sibi and Barakhan of Baluchistan, and a large number of Pakhtuns in Karachi who have lost fluency in Pakhut language, are actually Hindkowans, Sirikis, Balochs and Urdu speaking respectively if coded on the basis of language choice.
E, that the most commonly held myth that Pakistan's army over represent Pakhtuns- between 15-20 percent- if one were to believe Pakhtun as 15 percent of Pakistan's population against estimated 35 percent of total population, will come crushing like a pack of card.
F, that Internationally , Western Pakhtun watchers, will continue to treat Pakhtuns' "official" population in Pakistan including that of tribal areas as "gospel truth".
What is glaringly clear is that there is a complete lack of trust on the existing "linguistic" census choice.Thus a very systematic and scientific mechanism is needed to address the concerns of smaller ethnic groups in the coming census. Following points can be a start for discussion to enure fair head count of Pakhtuns and other minorities:
First, besides language choice, ethnic and racial choices should be make available in the census form and any data thus obtained be used as a criteria for demarking/redistricting of constituencies in the provinces and distribution of assets.
Second, parliamentary commission should be formed to conduct and supervise the process of next census in Pakistan, besides, the supervision of international observers.
Third, Pakhtun- dominated areas in Karachi should be redistricted in a manner that could ensure Pakhun representation. (The present state of affairs of Karachi where over 7 million Pakhtuns do not have a representation in Pakistan's national parliament is preposterous. Re-demarcation of Pakhtun and Urdu speaking areas will also ensure the breaking of political monopoly of MQM which is the long standing desire of PPP, ANP, Sindhi Nationalist, JI and PML-N).
Fourth, until fair census is held, district government should be appointed by the central government rather than elected as it will only ensure Urdu speaking pre-dominance at every walk of like at the cost of other ethnic communities.
Fifth, the district government of Karachi should not be handed over the control of police until fair census based on ethnic choice is held.
Sixth, after fair head counting, a review commission appointed by the Parliament, should determine the share of Pakhtuns in provincial and federal legislative bodies, and federal institutions including, the army where the myth of over representation of Pakhtuns- between 15-20 percent- holds sway, to the detriment of Pakhtuns' share based on over 35 per cent of country's population.
Seventh, Pakhtun political forces, intelligentsia and civil society should impress upon Islamabad that if a credible and transparent mechanism is not in place at the federal and provincial levels, before the new census, Pakhtuns will not accept the result of such counts.
Eighth, special Task force be established that can appropriately merge or group the new responses thus obtained on the basis of race or ethnic choices, and code them into appropriate communities based on available culture, literature and local knowledge.
So in the next census form, government should also put racial and ethnic background choices as it make more people think about their heritage in Pakistan. And for the first time ever, the next census must let Pakhtuns express both identities. For the Pakhtuns, It's time that we reclaim our rightful heritage and our rightful identity in Pakistan. On the adjusted census, one question must asks about my ethnicity. So I'm going to check yes, I'm Pakhtun, and yes, I am Afghan Pakistani. This new wording of the census will shows that Pakistan is finally willing to give Pakhtuns their due weight, and will finally validates to the individual Pakhutns: it's not only OK to be Afghan Pakistani or Pakhtun, it's a good thing, and the census wants to know. Census would want to know race and ethnicity, as expert say, these two words are more than just words. Then we would be a able to know the fair enumeration of Pakhtuns and accordingly give fair representation.
In Pakistan there is huge trust deficit between Punjab-dominated federal government, on one hand, and Pakhtuns in particular, on the other, on issues ranging from water theft, strategic depth policies, IDPs, language, to census. In order to bridge this gulf, Pakistan's establishment needs to reach out to Pakhtuns instead of perpetuating decades long policy of benign neglect towards Pakhtuns while brushing under the carpet their problems as a mere construct of "provincialism" and "linguistic" politics of the "enemies" of Pakistan; after all key to stronger Pakistan lies in taking Pakhtuns and other minorities on board, not in their alienation.