Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping and President of National Party (NP), Hasil Bizenjo, has urged Supreme Court of Pakistan to reconsider its decision of holding census in Balochistan. He also announced to not accept the census in presence of Afghan refugees in Balochistan. His reasons for urging the apex court to halt an overdue constitutionally mandated action are linked to the presence of Afghan refugees in the province too; separated from their nationalistic tenor however, these objections make little sense.

He claims that carrying out the census before repatriating the Afghan refugees to their home will be a “difficult task” and it should be delayed till the process is over, citing support from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak in this matter. While it is certainly true that a large refugee population will complicate proceedings of a census, in no way does it make it impossible, or even hazardous. Afghan refugees have been present in this country since the 1979, and several censuses, local and national have been conducted since then. The authorities will have to do some extra legwork – made easier by the recent extensive documentation process carried out by the Interior Ministry – but the benefits far outweigh the negligible extra cost.

His second concern – that people have become internally displaced from places like Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Makran division and Naseerabad because of the “security situation” – is perhaps a more reasonable one. Displaced people can skew census findings, and some error is expected in all counts of populations, but to call off the activity because of that error is illogical. This error can be corrected through the IDP documentation that the government has, and displacement does not affect a demographic survey – which is the true purpose of the census.

More than any real or justifiable concern which could merit the halting of the count, Mr Biznejo’s statements were a jumble of nationalistic sentiments and explicit fears that Afghan refugees might dilute the Baloch voter base. His prime goal seemed to be the ejection of the refugees rather than an accurate census, and it showed through his speech.

Mr Biznejo needs to understand that a census does not confer citizenship on refugees or change their legal status in any way; the repatriation plans will proceed regardless of the count. If the Baloch voter base is to be preserved, the understanding of the province’s demographics is essential. Hence, he needs to stop using the census as a political issue with which to push for his party’s nationalistic demands. The population count is overdue and badly needed, let us not delay it any longer.