Law Minister Zahid Hamid finally hinted on what most had preempted already, the population census would be postponed till next year. The reason given for this inexcusable delay is the unavailability of army troops who are apparently the only body that could guarantee the security required for this exercise.

The sixth national population census has had to wait 18 years to become political discourse and it is shameful that a much-needed exercise should be delayed further. One almost wonders if it will be conducted at all.

Over the years the census has become a very politically charged issue. It has been alleged that delaying the census only serves to benefit the politicians who successfully avoid the fresh delimitation of electoral constituencies before the 2018 general polls. The country has changed enormously in the last 18 years, not just in number but also in terms of political mindfulness; rural-urban migration and other significant changes in demographics affect the headcount exercise greatly. A change in the demographic of one constituency may convert a long-standing and assured electoral win into defeat if the census reveals new numbers.

The biggest loss in this pursuit of avoidance of the census is of the Pakistani people. As long as we remain in the dark of the accurate numbers, planning and policy design are severely skewed to serve the purpose of a select few. This information is absolutely vital to deliver the much required health and education services across the country, especially in remote areas. Mega development projects cost billions of rupees and it is not wise to allocate money from a constricted budget to build freeways and bridges only 1% end up using. The census should be carried out without further delay or we will continue to build outdated policies.