In Pakistan, just about anything can be had by those who can afford it, from cricketers who get fake birth certificates to US-bound college students who want identification proving they are 21 years of age so they can frequent nightclubs. Pakistanis have the option of simply purchasing any type of identification they desire. The investigation carried out by the British tabloid, The Sun, into the fake passports being sold to those who wished to escape to England during the Olympics is merely the tip of the iceberg. The response from the government so far has been tepid. A few NADRA and passport office officials have been arrested but there seems to be no will to tackle the fake identification epidemic.
The dangers of being a country where fake identifications are so easy to purchase are multiplied in an age of terrorism. Previously, the issue was one that could be swept under the carpet. Now, however, there is a very real possibility that militants could simply buy a new identity and further become impossible to trace. With passports also available for sale, this problem is given an international dimension. If the international community decides that Pakistani passports are no longer guaranteed authenticity, there is a possibility it could lead to further delays at airports for Pakistani passengers, who are already under a cloud of suspicion, or even the voiding of our passports altogether. International travel is partly based on trust, where other countries have to accept that the passports being presented are kosher. In Pakistan’s case, that trust may have evaporated.
Even at home, just about every activity we carry out is done on the basis of our identification, from opening a bank account to driving a car. If Pakistan hands out fake identifications, we will become a haven for drug smugglers looking to launder their money and criminals will be extremely hard to catch. Safeguards need to be put in place to ensure no official can hand out fake identification. Otherwise, identification handed out by the government will not be worth the paper it is written on.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.