A petition has been filed in the Lahore High Court seeking the disqualification of an MPA elected on a minority seat on the grounds that he is actually a Muslim.
The court on Monday issued notice through the Punjab Assembly speaker to Rana Asif Mahmood, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) member who was elected from NM-366 in the 2008 elections, for May 8.
The petitioner said that Mahmood had posed as a Christian to get elected on the seat. He also said he was a Canadian national and hence could not be elected MPA.
But Mahmood told The Express Tribune that he was a Christian, had always been one and was identified as such on his passport. He said that he had been incorrectly identified as a Muslim by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) because of his surname, and it was refusing to alter its records. He said that NADRA officials had told him that once it recorded Islam as someone’s religion, the rules did not allow it to change the record.
Petitioner Faisal Ilyas, a lawyer who identified himself as a Christian, submitted that Mahmood was a Muslim and could not continue as an MPA representing minorities. He said he also stood disqualified under Article 62 of the Constitution, which declared that only a righteous and honest person could serve as an elected representative. He also said that Mahmood was a Canadian national and the Constitution did not allow the citizen of another country to be elected to assemblies in Pakistan.
Counsel for the petitioner Advocate Saiful Mulook said that some of Mahmood’s opponents believed him to be “a Canadian businessman” and had been looking for documents to prove that he was a citizen of another country. He said they found his Pakistan Origin Card, issued in 2009, in which he was identified as a Muslim. He said he had submitted the card as evidence to the court.
He said that the NADRA record also identified his three children as Muslim, though his wife was said to be a Christian. “Apparently he married a Christian woman and tried to pass himself off as a Christian so he could be elected, but without actually converting to Christianity,” he said.
Mahmood said that he was born into a Christian family and his father Rana Taj Mahmood had contested elections as a Christian in 1948. He said one of his brothers, Humayun Khalid Mahmood, had been elected to a union council on a minority seat in 1987. He said his two other brothers were recently retired from army posts.
“This whole problem is down to a mistake made by NADRA that they now say they cannot fix,” he said. He said that he had been unaware that he had been listed as a Muslim until his son visited a NADRA office a few months ago to get his ID card. He said that he had asked NADRA officials to change it, but they told him that they could not change the religion entry once it had been written down as Islam. “Any other religion can be changed, but not Islam,” he said.
He said that his passport identified him as a Christian. He said that he had twice had to get his religion corrected on his passport as well because he had been put down as a Muslim.
Mahmood said that he had wanted to bring up the issue in the Punjab Assembly, but had been unable to. He said that NADRA had mistakenly put him down as a Muslim probably because of his name. He said he was a Pakistani citizen and though he had lived in Canada for a while, he had never obtained citizenship of that country.
He said that Christian politicians opposed to him were trying to exploit his circumstances through the petition. He said he believed that MPA Khalil Tahir Sindhu, an MPA on a minority seat also from the PML-N, was behind the petition. “He did not file it under his name because he was afraid of disciplinary action from the party. The PML-N would not be happy about a colleague challenging the candidature of an MPA from his own party,” he said.
He said that Sindhu wanted to get Kamal Chughtai elected to his seat. “Chughtai is at the top of the list for minority MPAs. He will be declared elected if a minority MPA quits or is disqualified,” he said. Sindhu denied having anything to do with the petition, saying he was on good terms with his colleague and they had been to church together several times.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2012.