There has been agreement, across the board, on the fact that a census of Pakistan’s population is overdue, and extremely exigent. However, there seems to be little political will to undertake his massive exercise. There is an ulterior motive behind this feigned lack of concern – at least amongst the political class: the unknown effects such as census will have on the demarcation of constituencies and the composition of the voter base. Hence, the census is relegated to the bottom of the priority list, and excuses of operational difficulties are wheeled out to support this lethargy.

This myopic outlook is causing serious damage. Chief Statistician of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics Asif Bajwa said, while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, that the record of 70 million Pakistanis is not available with government agencies – out of a population of 196 million. That is more than a third of the population – whose financial condition, identification, demographics and political association we have no idea about. We are creating budgets and policies for an imaginary Pakistan. Any government policy, no matter how well thought out, will be ineffective because it is not based on proper data; from refugee repatriation to NIC verification to education policy – everything is based on assumptions.

It is not enough to say that since the army cannot provide personnel, this exercise cannot be done. The job of the government is to carry out the census, even if it has to make makeshift arrangements. The entirety of Pakistan’s army is not involved in operations and large numbers can still be assigned to this task. The difference can be made up with personnel from other government departments. We have been able to carry out general elections – a similarly difficult task – despite our limitations. This should be no different.

The government needs to provide alternative solutions – a staggered census, a mixed personnel force, a semi-voluntary activity – the options are endless, just like their excuses.