In the modern world democracy is the best form of government and every democratic government distributes resources among citizens according to their population. For this purpose every democratic government conducts their censuses after every five or ten years. A census can help a country with representative government decide how much power each individual state and local government has in determining the direction of the country. The United States uses its census to determine how many representatives each state can elect to represent its citizens in the House of Representatives in Congress. This number is determined every 10 years by the population of each state. In Pakistan the last census was conducted almost 17 years ago in 1998. After that the new population census was delayed due to some reasons.

Recently, the federal government with the consensus of all the four provincial governments has decided to conducted population census in the country. The first phase has been underway from the last two days in different parts of the country. Like in all the four provinces and capital, the census will be also conducted in the federally administrative tribal areas.  However, here the question can be raised: Is population census possible in Fata particularly in South and North Waziristan Agency?

The reason: how can the census be possible when more than 50% of its population is living outside Fata? I think in these circumstances population census is not possible in the tribal areas. According to the 1998 census, Fata is home to a population of roughly 3.18 million people. However, Fata Secretariat estimates that there are 4.8 million people in Fata which is also mentioned in the Fata reforms committee reports. But the population of Fata is double of the committee estimates. While our military has been conducting operations against the militants in the tribal areas, more than seventy percent people left their homes and migrated to different parts of the country.

In this regard Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) has registered only those people who have returned to their areas. According to their official website report the population of the South Waziristan is about 1.4 million while according to the Fata reforms report it is 0.6 million – there is a huge difference. The case is similar in others agencies of Fata, particularly North Waziristan Agency.

There is little possibility of rehabilitation of all TDPs to their homes during the two-month-long headcount exercise. The government should, therefore, devise a strategy to ensure the TDPs are not left out. Most of the tribesmen are living away from their homes due to the fluid security situation – how can one guarantee a fair census in Fata? Half of the  tribal people are either living in temporary shelter camps or with their relatives elsewhere in the country. There is no column in the census form for the TDPs. How is the census possible in Fata?

Balochistan High Court has already directed the authorities to make sure the Baloch TDPs are counted in the census. The government should give the same right to the Fata TDPs. Parliamentarians from Fata JUI-F MNA Jamaluddin, who is also a member of the SAFRON committee, had also voiced similar concerns at a committee meeting a few days back. He had demanded that the government introduce a separate column for the TDPs in the census form.

Most of the TDPs were reluctant to go back to their hometowns because of lack of necessary infrastructure, fluid security situation and persisting winter conditions in their areas, which are already devastated by fighting between the military and Taliban militants. If the census is conducted in such a situation, then the Fata population will decrease instead of increasing. The government already has complete data on Fata tribesmen which could easily be included in the census. If this is not possible, the government should postpone the census till the complete rehabilitation of all the TDPs of Fata. We the people of Fata have demanded from all concerned authorities, particularly form PM Nawaz Sharif and Governor KP,  to look into the matter seriously so that the people of Fata get the equal rights as granted to the other citizen of the country.