Dr. Devendra K. Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action
The provisional results of the 2017 Pakistan Census were released on 25 August 2017. According to the results, the total population in Pakistan was 207,774,520, representing a 57% increase in 19 years. The provisional results exclude data from Gilgit-Baltisan and Azad Kashmir which is likely to be included in the final report in 2018. It appears that the released numbers are under estimated. Pakistan's population should be at least 25 crore. It seems that Pakistan's population is purposely being under reported. The Sind Government has already protested.
India population from 1998 to 2017 grew by 30%. Pakistan's population has grown by 57% during same period, around double than India. Currently, population of India is growing 1.1% per annum.
The Pakistani census results indicate an average annual growth of 2.4% since 1998, when the total population was put at 13.2 crore. Yes, it is a significant growth rate and has several implications for the wellbeing of the World at large with special reference to South Asia.
South Asia or the Indian sub-continent comprises of seven countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The population of South Asia is about 184 crore in 2017 or about one fourth of the world's population, making it both the most populous and most densely populated geographical region in the world. India is the largest and the most populous country with a population of 132 crore people. Pakistan is the second most populous country in the region with population around 21 crore and ranks the fifth in the World after China, India, USA and Indonesia with the one of the highest population growth not only in South Asia but in the world. Overall, it accounts for about 12% of south Asia's population (or over 2.8% of the world's population) and 97 per cent of its population is Muslim with low literacy rate. Pakistan is one of poorest countries in the region with 6th GDP per capita in the region followed by Nepal.
Pakistan is a federation that comprises four provinces: Punjab, Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sind, and Baluchistan; and four union territories including Gilgit-Baltisan and Azad Kashmir. The Census results reveal an acceleration in the population growth rate of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) known for the terrorism activities, even as growth in Punjab and Sind has slowed compared to previous results.
The results show that 3.1 crore people reside in KP, 50 lac in Fata, 4.8 crore in Sind, 1.3 crore in Baluchistan, while Punjab — the largest province in terms of population — houses 11.1 crore people.
Baluchistan, the least urbanized of Pakistan's provinces, has experienced the fastest average annual growth rate since 1998 of 3.4%. Punjab's average annual growth rate remained the slowest at 2.1%, slightly below the national average of 2.4 %.
The concentration of high population growth in the poorest and tribal regions of Pakistan presents its own set of challenges, “making it more difficult to eradicate poverty and inequality, to combat hunger and malnutrition, and to expand educational enrolment and health systems, all of which are crucial to the success of the new sustainable development agenda,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the UN Population Division.
It will also help to expedite the growth of terrorism. One has to remember that these areas are known as a terrorist hotbed. A fundamental problem in social and political sciences is how to explain the root causes of terrorism. The vast literature has analyzed several determinants of terrorism. However, the precise role of demographic factors for the origin and evolution of terrorism in specific geo-economic areas is hardly known. Results here show that population growth of Pakistan seems to be basic for the source and evolution of terrorism. It is observed that terrorism thrives in specific cultural zones with high growth rates of population combined with collective identity factors and low socioeconomic development as in the Middle East, according to the Prof. Mario Coccia of Arizona State University, USA. I also believe that the high growth rates of population in Pakistan, combined with acute environmental and socioeconomic stressors, can lead to cultural deviance, frustration and anger of individuals, and terrorism at large scale as happened in the Middle East.
The galloping population growth will pose very serious problem for its survival. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” said President Trump while outlining his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Trump had harsh words for US ally Pakistan, saying Washington could "no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations."
People in Pakistan are also worried about population growth. One of my friends said: “Control this population growth in our Pakistan before it's too late.” “Over population and overload of Chinese debt - what a future awaits our children”, remarked another. General feeling is that “Pakistan can’t sustain this kind of population growth - we need strong policies to ensure there is no further growth – two or even child policy?” In short, time has come to seriously address the issue of population explosion, it's eating resources and Pakistan cannot cope with it.
Bangladesh is a good example; look at its growth rate versus Pakistan. In 1971, population of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was 7.5 crore and the West Pakistan was 6.5 crore. 46 years later population of Bangladesh is 16.7 crore and that of Pakistan grew to 20.8 crore Bangladesh controlled its population through family planning, expanding women education and empowerment, rapid growth in public health facilities, etc. Pakistan really needs to work on to control its population at a sustainable level.
Time for Pakistan is to revisit its population policy and to revise implementation strategy for family planning programme. Failure to control population means failure in improving health, education and other social sectors as well as managing the spread of terrorism.