THE fact that a census is finally going to take place this year after a gap of almost two decades is welcome news, but it is disappointing to note that the data being collected will be incomplete. The exercise is conceived as little more than a head count, with other vital demographic data to be collected later in the year according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, “if we are given permission”. The data left out of the picture includes district of birth, previous district of residence, duration of residence at present location, educational attainment and information related to fertility. Whereas a census can be narrowly conceived as nothing more than a head count, along with rudimentary data on mother tongue, literacy and nationality, the inclusion of the kind of questions which will not be asked would have made the exercise more meaningful — especially if the data collected is to be used for calculating population growth rates or migration trends in the country. There is a possibility that politics has played a role in the decision to leave out the more meaningful demographic data this time. Migration is a politically charged issue, particularly in the province of Sindh which has absorbed the largest share of in-country migrants over the decades. If an accurate picture of the number of migrants who are now domiciled in the province is presented, it could reveal that the number of native Sindhi speakers is declining in Sindh. It is easy to see why such a revelation would have all manner of consequences for the province’s politics. Similarly, if population growth rates are made visible, particularly with reference to specific ethnic groups captured in the data using mother tongue as the variable, it could have political ramifications for ethnic-based parties. In fact, the failure of the last census to accurately portray a picture of migration trends in Sindh was one of the principal objections that demographers had regarding its veracity. This time, it appears, the government wishes to circumvent the issue altogether. A second issue with the exercise is the role of the army. Initially, we were told the military would be required for security and to lend credence to the exercise so nobody could allege tampering with the numbers. But now we are learning that the military will be carrying out its own head count next to the PBS enumerators, as well as gathering data about the number of foreigners. If so, will this data be cross-referenced? How will the military decide who is a foreigner and who isn’t? Will it be on the basis of self-identification, or will respondents be asked to furnish documentary proof of citizenship? The fact that a census is to be conducted is positive news, but many questions still remain to be addressed before the exercise gets under way in earnest.