The ever-increasing population is the ticking time bomb for a developing country like Pakistan. According to the provisional results of the 2017 census, Pakistan is effectively a country of approximately 208 million inhabitants. The figure is alarming. It is 57 percent more than the 1998 figures – the last time a census was conducted in the country. Pakistan houses 106.45m males, 101.31m females and 10,418 transgenders, according to the provisional results. The data reveals that 30.5m people reside in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5m in Fata, 47.9m in Sindh, 12.3m in Balochistan, 2m in Islamabad, while Punjab – the largest province in terms of population – houses 110 million people. The provisional results exclude the data from Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, which will further balloon the final figure after their inclusion in the final report. The census doesn’t include the oversees Pakistani’s either. Otherwise, the figure is likely to be much higher than the current one. Soon after the results were submitted to the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and revealed by some media houses, political parties across the country started bashing the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) for alleged rigging in the process. While some argued for misrepresentation of Karachi population, other quickly passed their judgements on changing the number of seats in the parliament according to the recent figures. The official report has not been released yet. While the MQM-P and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) leaders are decrying sidelining the Muhajirs in the country, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has declared the results of the census ‘a conspiracy against the Sindh province’ to reduce its share in National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, number of seats in the parliament and federal job quotas. While some of the concerns mentioned are genuine, if true, there is an underlying need to talk about the elephant in the room: the exploding population. There is no arguing that the completion of the census is one of the biggest achievements of the current government, though it should not have taken the Supreme Court of the country to order it. Although the final results from Pakistan’s Bureau of Statistics (PBS) are expected in April next year, the issue is very likely to be politicised for political gains. Firstly, the argument of great imbalance between the population increase of Karachi and Lahore has been addressed by Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa. The reason provided is that whole of Lahore district has been considered urban while two of Karachi’s districts have been categorised rural. Hence, the argument that Karachi’s population has been understated has its answer in the two rural districts – Korangi and Lyari. Secondly, the Parliament’s composition is very likely to be changed according to the constitutional provisions. But, since the results are likely to clash with the general elections next year, the opposition parties are very much likely to politicise the issue just for political gains. The census will have a direct impact on the upcoming general elections, as constituencies are expected to be redrawn according to the newly-compiled results – giving all the political parties space for politicking. Thirdly, the provincial governments are responsible for appointing census teams, and deputy commissioners and commissioners are in-charge of teams in their respective districts. Moreover, the provincial government defines the rural and urban areas. Hence, instead of directing their guns at the centre, MQM-P and PSP should be asking the Chief Minister of Sindh why two of Karachi’s districts are categorised rural. Even under the current results, Punjab’s share in National Finance Commission (NFC) award is likely to be reduced. Hence the PPP’s argument that Punjab has inflated the figures to increase its share doesn’t hold either. Moreover, Lahore’s population has seen a massive uptick due to migration, as compared to Karachi. The comparison between the growth trends will be illogical here. Lastly, while the final results will give a clearer picture and the PML-N government and the army deserve credit for the smooth conduct of the exercise, one thing is must: an APC needs to be called to discuss an action plan to tackle the booming population growth. Otherwise, the purpose of the whole exercise – which cost Rs17bn – will be lost and merely serve as the political capital for next general elections. Given the losses to the economy due to the war on terror in the past decade and a half, the whole political spectrum must be united to tackle the common problems. The current population of the country requires at least seven percent economic growth rate to survive, while we have barely achieved five in the last fiscal year for the first time in a decade. While there is no barring the political parties to present their concerns in the parliament, an unnecessary criticism of PML-N for political gains will only divert the focus from the main issue. Pakistan has suffered a lot due to terrorism. But the exploding population might just be an even bigger threat – one we are not prepared to deal with at all. The writer is a freelancer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2017.