South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

AN appalling abuse of power was reversed at the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday. The proceedings pertained to Nadra’s action in October 2019 of cancelling JUI-F leader Maulana Hamdullah’s CNIC — in effect, revoking his citizenship — on the grounds that he was an ‘alien’ and had obtained his identity papers through fraudulent means.

In a 29-page judgement, Chief Justice Athar Minallah wrote: “Citizenship is the most valuable basic right of a human. All other rights, whether social or political, cannot be enjoyed if a person does not have a bond of citizenship with a state.” The court ordered Nadra — that it said had acted in an “arbitrary and reckless manner” — to restore the CNIC of the former senator as well as those of other petitioners who had been subjected to the same on similar grounds. It held that the authority did not have the jurisdiction to initiate such proceedings on the basis of intelligence reports.

State institutions in Pakistan sometimes behave as though they operate in a vacuum where they can bend the law as it suits them. In Maulana Hamdullah’s case, it would be naïve to disregard the fact that his citizenship was revoked shortly before the JUI-F’s Azadi March on Islamabad. To add insult to injury, Pemra, citing Nadra’s cancellation of his CNIC, barred TV channels from inviting the outspoken JUI-F leader as a guest on talk shows because he was not a Pakistani citizen. This added another farcical element to what was already a bizarre situation. After all, there is no restriction on foreign individuals from appearing on TV talk shows. Moreover, the maulana’s papers must have undergone scrutiny each time he has stood for election, first to the Balochistan Assembly and later to the Senate. If any more proof were required that this was indeed an exercise in political persecution, consider that his father was a Balochistan government employee, and that his son is serving in the Pakistan Army.

To render someone stateless is a grave violation of rights, both according to domestic and international law. As the IHC ruling points out “… it virtually brings the life of an affected person to a halt … In a nutshell, the right to life guaranteed under Article 9 is virtually taken away”. That a government organisation can, on a whim, reduce an individual’s existence to naught in what is lawfully his or her country shows a disturbing escalation in tactics of oppression.

In fact, the fear of being rendered stateless is a very real one for many Pakistani citizens, particularly those born in India or what was once this country’s eastern wing. More often than not, each time they go to renew their identity and travel documents, they endure probing questions as to their credentials, whether they are ‘Pakistani’ enough to pass muster. Such paranoia does not behove a country nearly eight decades old.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2021