‘We’re Census staff… okay no, we’re from the MQM… and we want your CNIC’


KARACHI – A midst all the confusion surrounding the census process (are they counting houses now or people? Who’s counting what? Where?), the only constant over the past few weeks has been the fact that Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) cadres have been going to houses in the city, pretending to be Census officials. They have now added another demand to their pitch: they want copies of people’s Computerised National Identity Cards (CNIC). “Please give us copies of the CNIC of everyone in your family. We’re Census employees,” two of these young men claimed at a house in PECHS Block II. “We’re not wearing government-issued coats because it is evening now and we’re tired.
But look, we have registers and printed tables!” When pressed for more ‘concrete’ identification, one of them showed a small identification card on which his name had been handwritten along with a designation (“supervisor”). After some questioning, however, they admitted that they were MQM cadres from a local unit, and weren’t really employees of the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) tasked with the responsibility of going door to door, and asking for details. “But the government has told us to do this,” they maintained. “The Sindh government.”
The census process in Karachi, however, is being handled through the CDGK, not directly by the Sindh government. “Yes, but the Sindh government issued a notification to all political parties in the city, asking their cadres to collect names of residents,” they said. “Every party – the MQM, the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) – has been told to do this.”
A quick phone call to the provincial government’s Press Information Department (PID) shows, though, that no such notification was issued, nor was anything of the sort planned. Sources within the ANP, PPP and JSQM also said that the government had not issued any such notification. “There hasn’t even been any discussion on this,” they said. “Where did this come from?” The two MQM cadres had said that they were students from the University of Karachi. “We’re actually members of the All-Pakistan Muttahida Students’ Organisation (APMSO). We agreed to take this job on for extra pay. It’ll help towards our education,” they said. “All other APMSO members are doing this.”
An official from one of the MQM unit offices in the city also claimed that the government had indeed issued a notification and he could prove it. When asked for a copy of the notification, though, he backed out. “Well, there might be a notification, there might not be a notification. Either way, please don’t drag me into this,” he said. “I’m a city government employee. I barely make between Rs12,000 and Rs15,000 per month. It is extremely difficult to make ends meet. I took this job for extra pay and I don’t want to lose this income.” Earlier this week, Pakistan Today had reported on how MQM cadres were going around various areas of the city impersonating census department officials to gather data about the Urdu-speaking community in the city (“our people,” according to the young men involved in the process).
While the party claims that cadres of all other political parties were doing the same thing – impersonating government officials and collecting people’s personal data and documents – for particular ethnic groups, no other group has thus far been identified by Pakistan Today. Trusted sources within all other parties have also denied any such activity within their ranks. Sindh Youth Affairs Minister Faisal Subzwari, from the MQM, told Pakistan Today that he could not comment on official notifications issued in this regard because he was in Islamabad at the moment. “But see, we have to monitor the process to make sure that census officials don’t pull a fast one on us,” he said.
“During the last census, the population of, I think, Jacobabad, was falsely shown to be more than that of Karachi. Now this has a larger impact. A smaller population means lesser political representation, lesser number of seats, lesser resources, etc. We wanted to make sure that this does not happen again. Our cadres are definitely monitoring the counting process. This, however, does not give anyone the right to impersonate government officials. That would be wrong. If government officials have taken our cadres on to facilitate them, then they should refer to themselves as ‘facilitators’, not officials,” Subzwari argued.