On Wednesday, the government’s lethargy over the census issue led the Supreme Court to finally make a ruling, and it stated that the government did not ‘need’ as much support from the army as was claimed. Considering that the exercise in question is essentially a headcount, and not a war, the civilian setup can make arrangements without asking for armed security.

The government seems to have completely forgotten that civilian law enforcement forces still exist. Police all over the country can assist the government in providing security for the census. And the Supreme Court is right; the next elections cannot be carried out without having a more updated population count.

Pakistan’s problems are legion. But one of the most major is that government institutions do not function the way they are supposed to, and sometimes even leave a vacuum for other arms of the state to step in. The Supreme Court was forced to make this judgement, because the government gave excuse after excuse over the delay in carrying out the census.

The public should be grateful that at least one institution in this entire country is aware that carrying out a census should be made the utmost priority. However, this should have never been a matter for the Supreme Court to make a ruling on. It has been eighteen years since the last census was carried out, although, admittedly by the current ruling party. But forcing the judiciary to weigh in on matters related to the government is what causes lines to be blurred in the future. There is a reason that Pakistan has seen an overly active CJP in Iftikhar Chaudhry, and a long line of military dictators that have overthrown government after government. If the civilian government ensured that there was never any space left for other branches of the state to step in, no authority would be superseded.

At the end of the day, how can the government even presume to lead the people if it has no idea how many they are? Development projects, security considerations, economic calculations and rationing the water and food supply of the country are all dependant on an accurate measure of the total population. Essentially, every single policy that can have any sort of impact on an individual’s lifestyle, good or bad, is determined by population statistics.

Enough dilly-dallying – the government must carry the census out with the greatest urgency, and it is hoped that this Supreme Court ruling will provide something in the way of incentive.