The Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) is not only a document denoting an individual identity; it also solemnises the legal relationship between the state and the individual with the consequent effect of ensuring rights and responsibilities. The revocation or suspension of such a basic legal document, on clumsy grounds, is tantamount to impugning the constitutional rights of a citizen. Currently, NADRA has blocked thousands of CNICs, majority of which belong to Pakhtun citizens. According to media reports, so far, 88,000 CNICs in Balochistan and 72,000 in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa have been blocked. The Pakhtuns living in Punjab and Sindh are facing similar problems as citizens as the CNIC is a proxy to citizenship.
The main reason given by state functionaries is that they are trying to identiry Afghan refugees who obtained CNICs illegally. This justification ignores ground realities. Firstly, NADRA has failed to distinguish between having an Afghan lineage and being an Afghan national. The authorities have conveniently mixed up Afghan Pakhtuns, who are legitimate citizens of Pakistan with Afghan refugees. Moreover, they have failed to establish through undeniable evidence that the holders of blocked CNICs are indeed Afghan refugees.
Pakistan accepted, rather encouraged, many Afghans to leave Afghanistan in large numbers and settle as Afghan refugees during the Afghan war in the 1980s. It is now an open secret that without these refugees, the CIA would not have been able to take the Afghan war to its logical conclusion as these refugees provided a pool for recruitment, as well as a cover for war supplies and drug trafficking to procure money for the war. In a changed geo-political environment, Afghan refugees have lost their strategic importance. Nonetheless, they deserve humane treatment from the host state as well as the international community on humanitarian grounds until proper repatriation can take place. Now that the tide has turned, Pakistani authorities are humiliating them by roughing them up and deliberately mixing Pakhtuns living on this side of the Durand Line with the refugees by blocking their CNICs and arresting them.
The holders of blocked CNICs possess compelling evidence of being bona fide citizens of Pakistan but this has had no effect on NADRA. The judiciary, both the lower and high courts, have issued clear cut verdicts against NADRA’s decision. Some of the CNICs have remained blocked since 2010 under the pretext of these being verified but over the last five years, NADRA has failed to complete this verification process. Even the cases that have been verified by the Federal Investigation Agency have not been entertained by NADRA.
The most farcical aspect here is that NADRA has ordered those who migrated to Pakistan in the past five, six or seven decades to get verification from their native place. There are many Pakhtuns settled in parts of Punjab, even before Partition in some cases, who are considered Afghan refugees by NADRA.
If NADRA doubts that Afghan refugees have succeeded in getting their CNICs through legal means making use of its meticulous and state-of-the-art biometric and verification process, then this certainly raises questions over the reliability of the authority, which is entrusted to tabulate national data. It will be appropriate to sum this up with the excerpts of the Islamabad High Court’s verdict in the Eidmat Khan writ petition against the blocking of his family’s CNICs. “Respecting the awaited verification, suffice it to say, that the authority is not robbed with the monarchical powers to keep the matter pending for indefinite period at the cost of fundamental rights of petitioners, because it deprives the persons not only from freedom of movement, trade and security of person but also tarnishes dignity and right to equal treatment in their larger scope, therefore, it is in contravention of constitutional guarantees.” (Paragraph 10 of the judgment).
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2015.
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