It is nice to learn through a report titled ‘Giving voting right to expats arduous task, SC told’ published on January 25 in an English daily (Dawn) that the Supreme Court has taken up Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chief, Imran Khan’s petition requesting that overseas Pakistanis be given voting rights. Having lived abroad for over two decades, I do know that even while enjoying a fair degree of prosperity and security, Pakistanis living abroad do miss Pakistan and things Pakistani and remain attached to their country of origin all along. The fact that nearly all of them have relatives back home further strengthens their bonds with Pakistan. It is really a shame to have kept them deprived of the voting rights and now that there is a move to redress this injustice, it better be taken to its logical conclusion and fairly soon for that matter.

As pointed out by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the idea is good but difficult to implement. Others have expressed greater reservation like the difficulty of enrolling eight-million Pakistanis eligible for registration.  However, in this age of super computers and networking systems, making eight-million entries does not sound like an arduous task to me.

Election Commission of Pakistan Joint Secretary seemed even more despondent because of costs involved which he estimated as Rs.10 per vote within Pakistan but as much as $ 200 for each overseas vote. In the absence of any details about the costing system employed by him, one cannot really accept or reject his estimate offhand but still it seems to be on the higher side and by a large margin for that matter.  Perhaps he envisaged ECP staff going door-to-door to register eligible Pakistanis living abroad. I am sure with a bit of brain-storming of the right brains, costs could be brought down substantially from the frightening figure of $ 200 per vote to something much more realistic. 

Luckily, it is not an entirely unknown phenomenon and arrangements already exist for government employees posted abroad to cast their votes. So, it is just a question of expanding the process in a cost-effective manner. According to NADRA’s advocate Afnan Kundi, the authority has already issued 4.4 million national identity cards (NICOP) to overseas Pakistanis and this could give a good start to the ECP. The rest of the people could also get registered provided there is a will to do the job. Another complication quoted is that the United States, Britain and some other countries allow people to hold dual nationality. I would think that technically, Pakistan also permits holding of dual nationality because I have not heard of anyone stripped of his Pakistani nationality because of acquiring another nationality.

As rightly pointed out, the process might require some legislation. However, noting the speed with which a resolution against Gen. Pervez Musharraf was moved and passed in the Senate, I am not entirely disappointed in the ability of our legislators to move quickly. Given a desire to do so, I am sure they can pass the required legislation fairly quickly. I do believe that the overseas Pakistan who feel for Pakistan, send remittances and make investments here and could provide additional help through their expertise and connections, should be given due recognition and respect, and one way of doing that would be to facilitate their participation in the Pakistani electoral process.

S.R.H. HASHMI,

Karachi, January 28.