Peshawar - Various experts and political leaders have raised concerns about the accuracy of the population count for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in the 2023 census. During a seminar organized by the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) in Peshawar, they discussed the potential consequences of this apparent underrepresentation. The experts highlighted that if the census inaccurately portrays KP’s population, it could lead to reduced representation in the National Assembly and a diminished share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award.
The seminar saw the participation of significant figures, including IRS Chairman Dr Iqbal Khalil, former Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) provincial minister Inayatullah, former Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) member of the provincial assembly Ahmed Khan Kundi, ex-Awami National Party (ANP) provincial assembly member Salahuddin, Statistician Javed Khalil, and Prof Dr Fazl ur Rehman Qureshi.
Speakers expressed their concerns about the implications of the revised census figures for KP. They noted that the province’s population growth rate seemed lower than the national average, with some districts even showing population decline. There were reservations about the incompleteness of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and doubts about the caretaker government’s authority to approve census results, leading speakers to question the legitimacy of the approval process.
The speakers emphasized that both the interim governments of KP and Punjab had exceeded their mandates and violated the constitution by endorsing the census results. They argued that the CCI lacked the necessary legitimacy to sanction these results and called for a united political front to defend the province’s rights.
Ahmad Khan Kundi, a former PPP lawmaker, stressed the census’s importance for policymaking and resource allocation, warning against disregarding the recent census results. He pointed out concerns about the digital census’s accuracy, particularly regarding the recording of families instead of individuals in KP.
Kundi pledged to raise this issue across all platforms, regardless of party affiliations. He drew parallels with East Pakistan’s tragic history, which resulted from population- resource imbalances, urging for lessons to be learned from past mistakes.
Salahuddin, an ex-ANP member, decried ongoing injustices against KP and reiterated the ANP’s commitment to addressing these issues. He asserted that the province’s constitutional rights were being overlooked and stated that the ANP would strongly voice its opposition to such injustices.
Javed Khalil, speaking at the seminar, expressed astonishment at the significant reduction in tribal districts’ representation in the National Assembly. He compared the six seats allocated in 2023 to the six seats they held in the 1970s, citing this as unbelievable. Khalil juxtaposed this against the practices of developing countries like India, Malaysia, and Korea, which prioritize accurate census data and equitable resource allocation. In contrast, the process in Pakistan appears to lack transparency, taking place behind closed doors and raising doubts about its constitutionality.
Khalil argued that interim governments lack the authority to decide on such pivotal matters concerning the provinces’ fate. He highlighted the disparity in seat allocation between Balochistan and tribal districts, condemning it as a grave injustice against Pakhtuns.
Dr Iqbal Khalil noted the lowest population growth rate in KP, emphasizing the narrow margin between the province’s National Assembly seats and those of Sindh. He also highlighted the impending reduction of seats for women from the province. The transfer of six National Assembly seats from KP to Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan was met with strong resistance, indicating the need for unified advocacy.