Speak to any development practitioner or governance expert, and they’re invariably likely to emphasise the need of reliable data for sound decision-making. However, our less-than-competent state can do well enough with population data collected over 17 years ago! And the present government’s continued equivocation on the issue suggests that it has little interest in changing the situation.

The refusal to carry out the census has been justified by one excuse after another. The army’s inclusion into the exercise has been made a precondition, which is fine, but not being able to agree on the numbers being supplied for the exercise is no reason for this inordinate delay. First, it was Zarb-e-Azb, and now its cross-border violations from the Indian side.

At this rate, there is never likely to be a perfect time for supplying troops for the census. Pakistan is embroiled in conflict on all fronts, and this situation is not likely to change in the near future. And is the government really telling us that all of our troops our currently not available? Pakistan’s army was never short of manpower, sparing some troops for this should not be as difficult a task as it is made out to be.

And while we are quick to dismiss our other law enforcement agencies such as the provincial police forces, using them in areas which are not as much of a security risk as others should also be perfectly acceptable. Areas in Balochistan and Karachi which already have a strong military presence should make use of the troops already present.

Pakistan’s developmental priorities will continue to be skewed until the state actually has a real estimate of how many people it is to cater to. Nineteen years is a long time with a country that already had an overpopulation problem, long before this uncalculated exponential increase. Carrying out the census should be made one of the highest priorities.