To count the people of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), enumerators require more paperwork, legwork and security.
Pakistan kicked off its sixth population census on March 15. For the rest of the country, the procedure, for data collection is simple. An enumerator, shadowed by a single soldier, will move door-to-door collecting basic information about individuals and their family members. But in the tribal stretch bordering Afghanistan, very few homes remain, after Pakistan carried out a series of military offensives to drive out terrorists. The latest of these was Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in 2014, which displaced over one million people.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 231,657 families have already gone home, while 67,000 families are still displaced, living with their relatives or in government camps.
On Monday, a meeting of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions and a Senate Standing Committee decided on a special procedure to include the temporarily displaced persons in the population survey. Even if a single family member is present at their home, in the tribal belt, enumerators would count the entire family. And for those who haven’t returned, the field staff will first note down their home address. Then, a political agent will be sent to the location to physically verify the house, or the skeleton remains of one.
"A single brick would be enough to verify the address," said an official, privy to the meeting, who asked not to be named.
The semi-autonomous tribal lands consist of seven agencies: Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, and North and South Waziristan. The first phase of the national census only includes the Orakzai agency. While the other six will be surveyed in the second phase, which begins in April.
For the exercise, FATA has been divided into 288 circles, 48 tehsils (charges) and 3,799 blocks, geographical units. One circle is comprised of 10 villages while each block rounds up 200-250 houses.
Approximately 4,179 enumerators have been appointed. In the rest of Pakistan, these data collectors are public school teachers. But over in FATA, the staff has been drawn from the offices of local political agents. Up to eight Frontier corps personnel would guard each enumerator in high-risk areas.
FATA, lawless and underdeveloped, became notorious after the Taliban and al-Qaeda established sanctuaries here. Pakistan regained control over its territory after the 2014 military assault. This month, the cabinet approved a proposal to introduce reforms in the region, to bring it into the fold of the country’s constitution.
In the last census, in 1998, FATA recorded a population of 3.176 million.