Camelback counters trek wilderness for Pakistan census
“We even must reside for days out within the mountains among the many individuals we’re counting,” says census supervisor.
Plodding over the horizon of Balochistan, camel-riding officers spy on a far-flung cluster of tough wood properties and begin tallying its tribespeople because the nationwide census will get underway.
Past the attain of roads, energy traces and TV alerts in central Balochistan, this arid settlement of 5 reed huts has no identify and hosts barely 15 nomads — three households herding goats and sheep.
“We journey for hours,” stated native census supervisor Faraz Ahmad. “We even must reside for days out within the mountains among the many individuals we’re counting.”
In cities and cities, groups wend their approach from door to door on motorbikes.
However in rural Balochistan, the tarmac offers option to craggy trails that then dissolve altogether in a wilderness of khaki rockland.
A fleet of gurning camels is the one choice to get the job finished.
“It takes some time to persuade them to share their particulars,” census taker Mohammad Junaid Marri instructed AFP in Kohlu district, 210 kilometres east of Quetta and one hour by camel from the closest discernible highway.
“In some instances, it’s form of humorous. Since each census group has a safety escort, typically individuals run away,” the 30-year-old stated after his garlanded camel Bhoora bowed to let him slide off its hump and begin peppering households with questions.
Between 5 and 10 per cent of Kohlu residents reside in areas so inaccessible that camels are the one sensible transport, estimates 34-year-old Ahmad.
They’re rented for 1,000 rupees a day and the value features a cameleer — a person trudging forward to guide the bristly beasts on a leash.
A separatist insurgency has long simmered in the region, fuelled by the grievance that Islamabad has failed to share the spoils of wealth extracted from Balochistan.
As Marri and Ahmad approach the hamlet on one camel — trailed by another carrying a guard wielding a weathered machine gun — they are eyed by a teenager through a pair of binoculars as children in traditional red floral dresses gather around.
“There’s a lack of awareness among people about the census — they don’t understand the benefits and downsides,” said Ahmad. “They don’t trust us and fear we may cheat them.”
Elsewhere, police guarding census teams in the nation’s remote and restive northwest have been killed by the Taliban.
Despite the decidedly low-tech mode of transport, this is the first time Pakistan’s census will be compiled digitally — on tablets rather than reams of paper. Nonetheless, the old grievances remain.
“What benefits will we get from the census?” asked Mir Khan, 53, in another nearby speck of a settlement at the foot of mountains.
“We will get nothing. The influential people snatch everything the government wants to distribute to the poor.”
“We have never seen any support from the government,” grumbles his cousin Pando Khan, 58. “We see people when they’re campaigning for us to vote for them, and later they never return.”
However, after swapping their personal details with families according to local tribal customs, Ahmad and Marri convince them to answer 25 questions to give them a clearer picture of present-day Pakistan.
Header photo: In this picture taken on March 23, 2023, a member of the levies tribal force (L) and census officials from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (R) ride camels to collect information from Marri tribespeople living in the remote mountainous area of Mawand as part of a national census in Pakistan’s Kohlu district, Balochistan province. — AFP