Today’s meeting of the Council for Common Interests (CCI) decided to postpone the census to a later date instead of holding it as planned in March. The government cited the lack of teachers, army personnel and the failure to register Afghan refugees as the reasons behind this latest delay. While security is a legitimate concern, Ishaq Dar’s meeting with GHQ over the weekend seemed to have borne fruit, with the army reportedly agreeing to provide more than the initial number of 100000 soldiers promised for security. If the Army is willing to provide more security even with Zarb-e-Azab in full swing, the government’s hesitation to carry out the census does not hold weight. It is also unsettling to know that the government is unable to find enough teachers even when the government schools are supposedly improving on their teacher attendance rate. Registering Afghan nationals is a separate issue entirely, and carrying out both exercises simultaneously is possible, and indeed, even preferable, because the census will help in locating any refugees that have been missed in the registration process.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) latest recommendation to hold a manual census, after a large portion of preparatory work has been done for a computerised census is inexplicable. This latest suggestion from PBS indicates that its staff is not ready to handle a computerised census. The computerised system will take roughly three months for the results of the census while the manual process could take well over 18, which makes the former a much more practical option given the urgency of the need for accurate statistics.

The government’s lethargy in beginning the 18-day exercise is inexcusable because the census already comes eight years too late. Waiting for another year is not sensible, nor feasible. Rs 5 million of the budget has already been released, and moving this exercise to the next fiscal year makes no sense. The significance of the census in policy-making cannot be overstated, and no government can claim to make improvements to the standard of living without first knowing how many people it is catering to. Delineation of constituencies for all electoral polls in the country, the NFC Award and implementing ethnicity based quotas in governmental allocations are all based on inaccurate data that is only holding the country back from making crucial adjustments to its governance policies. With the next meeting of CCI scheduled on March 25, the government is sadly ignoring all calls to hold this all-important exercise without delay.