Census and capacity building

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that it would be impossible to hold 2018 elections without conducting a census first, and questioned government’s lethargy in the matter. The Attorney General of Pakistan, Ashtar Ausaf’s reply to the apex court was woefully inadequate as he said that census was a “sensitive matter” and its credibility would be called to question without the army’s help. This goes to show the lack of trust in civilian institutions as government’s own top legal officer admitted dependence on the armed forces for “credibility”. Moreover, this is also symptomatic of government’s reliance on quick fixes and temporary measures without going through the arduous task of capacity building within civilian institutions. Ranging from the maintenance of law and order to rescue and rehabilitation measures during natural disasters, it is always the military that has to be called in to take care of them.
It is true that civilian institutions lack the organisational wherewithal to tackle issues on a national level. However, this does not mean that they do not have the potential to improve themselves. For example, the ELITE police force that is highly trained to respond in a quick and efficient manner is mostly only deployed to protect the VIPs, and albeit their good performance it is indeed questionable why their services are not utilised in a wider spectrum. The system under which the ELITE force works is a manifestation of good productivity of civilian institutions if there is an effective mechanism and sincerity to work is in play.
Unfortunately, the general public is not afforded the same degree of attention as the elites of this country, and they have to contend with the nearly dysfunctional police force and justice system of Pakistan.
This lack of capacity of civilian institutions makes it very difficult to carry out policy at all levels. No matter how well devised a policy proposal is, if the state machinery is not equipped with the required tools, both in terms of qualified personnel and institutional development, then it would likely fail at achieving its objectives. And this is where a census becomes extremely important. A census would be able to give the requisite information to make good policy proposals in the first place, which would set goals that are achievable under existing constraints and, more importantly, accurately reflect reality. While a census is certainly no replacement for the institutional reforms that are badly needed in Pakistan, in the meantime it would allow policy makers to step out of the darkness created by outdated information of the last census, which was conducted far back in 1998.