The decision to defer the planned and imminent census indefinitely may prove to be one of the worst decisions taken in the life of the current dispensation. The final say lay with the Council of Common Interests (CCI), a body that is largely moribund having not met for almost a year despite being constitutionally required to meet every three months. The CCI held its 28th meeting at the Prime Minister House on February 29, a meeting also attended by provincial chief ministers. The writing had been on the wall for the census for weeks, ever since the military decided that it could not release men in the numbers being asked for. There seemed to be a general understanding that without the military support, the risk factor attached to census-taking was unacceptable. A glimmer of hope a week ago that the army may be able to help after all has now faded, and the census with it.
The census now goes on to the back burner with some profoundly negative long-term consequences for the nation as a whole. Without a census so much is down to informed — or ill-informed — guesswork in terms of populations, their density and ethnic mix, the old/young ratio, the correct allocation of resources both fiscal and material, as well as a host of other parameters. The national census is the primary planning tool, already eight years late, and now consigned to oblivion. The political and socio-cultural sensitivities that trigger such alarm in the ruling circles are not going to be easing in the foreseeable future, they are always going to be there, most likely getting ever more rather than less in terms of degrees of sensitivity. The next meeting of the CCI is to be on March 8 with a single agenda item — the National Flood Protection Plan. Kicking the census into the long grass for eight months is effectively abandoning it altogether, and that is something close to a national tragedy of far-reaching consequences. The next election is in 2018. If there has been no census and fresh delimitation of constituencies, then its legitimacy is in question. An infusion of political courage would not go amiss, and soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2016.