The Council of Common Interests (CCI) during its second meeting of the month, failed to arrive at a precise time for conducting the long-overdue population count, inevitably declaring its delay. The government is once again displaying its famous disregard for broadening ownership and stakes in the complex exercise and so is the military.

The government took the stand that due to non-availability of the required number of armed forces personnel to conduct the census in one go, its hands were tied. The secretary of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) informed the participants that a series of meetings were held with provincial governments and the armed forces, where since transparency of census operation was vital for future planning, around 300,000 troops are required to “ensure man-to-man coverage as well as lend credibility and security to the operation,” Due to the engagement of the armed forces in Zarb-e-Azb, the required number of troops simply could not be spared at the moment. However, this view has been contradicted by a senior security official, who has said that “it is a political decision which for some reason the federal government is finding difficult to make”.

Under the law, a census must be carried out once every ten years. The last census was held in 1998. Distribution of national and provincial assembly seats, job quota in federal departments and determination of the National Finance Commission award are done on the basis of the provinces’ population. Is it possible that this delay is due to a possibility of sharply altered population ratios between the provinces? In fact, the head count may well set into motion a complex and highly contested set of politics.

Without census data, socio-economic planning is not much better than guesswork. If the PML-N can successfully execute this task, it stands to credibly put to rest the perception that it is a party that runs the affairs of the country with the interests of only one province in mind.

Moreover, it is the primary responsibility of the government to report on the state of the nation. None of the reasons for the delay in holding a population census are convincing when raised so late in the day.