More than three million Bengalis and Biharis living in Pakistan could finally see a change in their status if the latest recommendations made by the interior ministry see the light of day, sources said.
Under ministerial recommendations, they said, these Bengalis and Biharis would at last win full citizenship rights.
A detailed briefing is expected to be given by the ministry at today’s meeting of the parliamentary panel on interior affairs, according to a credible source in the interior ministry.
A copy of the report has already been sent to the standing committee to review and discuss the issue in detail before the meeting.
“The issue of nationality for them (Biharis and Bengalis) has become serious and a bone of contention, which is disturbing the restoration of peace,” an official source told The Express Tribune. “Bengalis and Biharis call themselves Pakistanis but according to the state law they are referred to as ‘foreigners’,” he added.
An official said that after much consideration, the government decided to go ahead with a plan to grant permanent status to them in anticipation that the step would help ease the unrest in Karachi and promote peace in the country.
A member of the PPP core committee said that although it is a welcome step, the issue must be brought up in parliament for debate and discussion.
For such sensitive cases, he added, endorsement from parliament and consensus from all concerned parties is essential and unavoidable. “Parliament should not be bypassed as the issue is very sensitive.”
The member added that Syed Qurban Ali Shah, a former Pakistan Peoples Party parliamentarian who had for long opposed the idea to legalise the Bihari-Bengali segment, said that the government should not take any step regarding the issuance of citizenships to Biharis and Bengalis as the constitution did not allow it.
A spokesperson for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), however, said that the party has no issues with the decision. The MQM would, in fact, support the move as it believes in the provision of equal rights for every person in the country, he added.
Before drawing any conclusion though, he said it would be useful to look at the comprehensive data of both groups in Pakistan. The spokesperson said that during the previous government’s tenure a department called the Alien Registration Department was established to collect the data of all those living illegally in Pakistan. “The government should initiate the idea [again] and bring it to parliament with a comprehensive data of Bihari and Bengali people in Pakistan,” he said.
When asked about the earlier opposition expressed by MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi, the spokesperson said that statements depend a lot upon the situation of the time and may vary accordingly.
In 2004, when the then government was considering issuing CNICs to Biharis and Bengalis, Rizvi was of the view that the two should not be treated equally, as Bengalis had opposed Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2012.