According to the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), an inter-provincial body, the sixth population census would be conducted in March 2016 with the support of the armed forces in Pakistan, as was done during the 1998 census. However, the Baloch nationalist parties are keenly opposing the scheduled population census with the number of reservations, where one of the chief issues is presence of Afghan refugees.
The Baloch nationalists justify that presence of Afghan refugees in Balochistan is a great threat as more than 2.1 million Afghan refugees are taking shelter in Balochistan and there are very less chances of transparency in the census. As according to the confession of three National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) employees under National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigations, the afghan refugees have been issued legal documents.
A large number of Afghan fled from Afghanistan to Balochistan and KPK during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan and this influx continued due to political unrest and civil war in Afghanistan even the Afghans were not registered with any authority.
The imminent census has increased grievances of Baloch nationalists; it has become a great challenge for twenty one Baloch populated districts with huge reservations. The Baloch nationalists fear that inclusion of Afghan refugees has been planned in population census to convert them in minority and there it becomes a challenge for Baloch nationalists.
Almost all the Baloch nationalist parties in government and opposition have opposed upcoming census, according to them addition of Afghan refugees in census can not only affect the Baloch society but also it can harm Baloch demography. However, the Pashtun nationalist have always favored and assisted Afghan refugees, so as to increase their vote bank for political reasons.
Sanaullah Baloch, a Baloch nationalist and former member of National Assembly in 1997 and elected Senator from Balochistan in 2003, in one of his interviews to the Balochistan Point says, “In Chaghi, Quetta, Noshki, Bolan and Sibi district; government’s special units are working to register close to 1 million Afghan refugees. This was a small revelation if someone closely looks in to Bolan and Sibi district record there has been hundreds of thousands of fake registrations. In Quetta on behest of government, Eastern and Western bypass lands are given to Afghans to convert Baloch into a minority within their homes.”
The influx and refuge of Afghan cannot be denied, according to a recent report of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are accommodating 82 percent Afghan refugees including 62 percent KPK and 20 percent residing in Balochistan province. “The majority of Afghan nationals are ethnically Pashtun 86 percent, followed by Tajiks 6 percent, Uzbeks 2 percent and others 6 percent.” The UNHCR report says.
Another report of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveals that approximately 60,000 children are born to Afghan refugees every year in Pakistan and it is estimated that about 180,000 children have not been registered since 2010 due to lack of awareness of the importance of birth certificates and also long distances to registration centres.
This is worth mentioning that above quoted reports are about registered afghan refugees. However, a large number of immigrants in Balochistan do not live in refugee camps and they avoid being registered with UNHCR or government. As they have occupied local business in Balochistan. The unregistered Afghan refugees live in Quetta, Pashtun districts of Balochistan and Baloch populated districts of Dalbandin, Nushki Sibbi and Lasbela.
Pashtun nationalists historically backed Afghan refugees in both the phases of their coming to Balochistan, so as to increase Pashtun population illegally. The religious parties, with a pro-Taliban stance, had also supported the Afghan refugees to provide them a safe haven and launching protection for operations from Balochistan.
The people in Balochistan and Pashtun in Zobh and Kakar’s populated in Pashtun belt of Balochistan have expressed their concerns pertaining presence of Afghan refugees in Balochistan, fearing that the existence of Afghan will compound their economical problems and they may not live peacefully in their own native places.
Keeping in view the Baloch and Pashtun concerns, it is high time; the government of Pakistan has to cope with this burning issue. There can be a successful population census if all the refugees are repatriated as soon as possible. To ensure fairness and transparency in census the responsible authorities have to take tangible measures by conducting an organized and strong verification of the documents having Afghan refugees in Balochistan ,mainly, in Quetta , Loralai, Pishin, Dalbandin, Noshki, Sibbi, Lasbela and Pashtun belt of Balochistan.
Published in The Balochistan Point on February 29, 2016
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the writer and The Balochistan Point not necessarily agrees with them.