Editor’s note: This piece was initially published in The Friday Times on 27 January, 2017.
Hazaras are finding their ID cards are being blocked over citizenship proof.
If you are a Hazara and stand in a queue in front of a passport office, you will be killed. If you stay alive long enough to be able to get a foot in the door, you will only hear that you cannot be issued a passport because your CNIC has been marked ‘suspected’ or ‘blocked’. You now have to go through an arduous process of unblocking your identity card. You are only likely to be able to manage to get through this process if you are rich enough to be able to pay to verify every single document that was ever issued to you and your entire family since you were born.
Nearly 65,000 Hazaras are left in Pakistan. (Minus the 500 who drowned on boats). It is small wonder, then that given their dwindling numbers, there is a strong perception that they are being subjected to systematic persecution as their CNICs are blocked. This might be a baseless perception but many Hazara leaders point towards the rapidly vanishing number of Hazaras in the federal and provincial offices. Hazara officials have been either killed or harassed in order to force them to leave their jobs. Merchants, traders and businessmen have been harassed over selling their properties at throwaway prices. And the recent issue of revoking or suspending the citizenship of thousands of Hazaras makes the community feel even more anxious.
NADRA requires the applicants to produce proof of citizenship from before 1979 (the Afghan civil war) to obtain or renew their CNICs
In 2015, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) announced that it had blocked thousands of CNICs in Balochistan after their holders, as it claimed, “failed to prove they were citizens of Pakistan.” Around 45,000 CNICs have been blocked in Quetta alone over the past year, Quetta Assistant Commissioner Tariq Mengal has said on the record.
NADRA requires the applicants to produce proof of citizenship from before 1979 (the Afghan civil war) to obtain or renew their CNICs. However, in reality it has become very difficult to obtain an identity card or passport if you are a Hazara despite fulfilling these requirements. There are many unwritten requirements and factors that lead to a blocked CNIC.
The language problem
One way the authorities believe they can identify a ‘fake’ citizen is to check whether an applicant for a CNIC can speak Urdu or not. “This strategy is flawed as a large number of Pashtun, Baloch and Hazara people cannot speak Urdu fluently,” said a high-ranking official of the Balochistan government, who preferred to stay unnamed for fear of losing his job.
NADRA officials often object when a Hazara applicant writes ‘Farsi/Dari’ as his or her mother language on the application form. “It is a shame that NADRA says Farsi is not a Pakistani language but an Afghan language. Pakistan’s former Commander-in-Chief’s mother language was Farsi,” says Sardar Mehdi Hassan Musa, a former provincial minister, referring to his grandfather, Gen. Musa Khan Hazara (the ex-Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan, Governor West Pakistan and Governor Balochistan). “NADRA officials should have been educated from the beginning that Farsi is spoken in Pakistan.” Sardar Mehdi’s father, Hassan Musa, was the first high-profile Hazara assassinated in Karachi in 1998. His killers have yet to be brought to justice. Mehdi Musa himself has survived assassination attempts.
Unlike with the usual procedure of obtaining an ID card, a Hazara has to pass an oral interview before a NADRA official, which sometimes includes questions about Pakistan’s history and geography, in order to have their application processed. Otherwise there is a cumbersome process of verification, which takes months and repeated visits to government offices, MPAs and MNAs for the attestation of documents. Often, petty officials demand bribes to attest the documents.
If any member of your family has been careless about documenting a child’s birthday properly or even if a mistake was entered into the system by NADRA itself previously, the newly updated NADRA software picks up on them. And if a discrepancy is found, the applicant’s CNIC is automatically blocked. This, of course, means that as a result the entire family’s data is blocked or flagged as ‘suspected’,” says the government official.
Hassan’s (not his real name) CNIC has been blocked because his younger brother’s age has been entered wrong on the documents. NADRA has refused to unblock their CNICs even though the family has produced proof of citizenship from the 1960s. They have filed a complaint against NADRA in court but the case is still pending.
Muhammad, a Hazara student who had to apply for admission to a university in Lahore after having completed his college education in Quetta, discovered that he needed to obtain a valid CNIC for the admissions process. “I applied for a CNIC in early 2013,” he said. “I provided them all the citizenship proof of my parents and family members from the 1970s as per their requirement. But I was told that my name was in the ‘suspect’ category for unknown reasons.” NADRA asked Muhammad to get copies of his documents and his application form attested by an MPA or MNA. He did this. He has yet to get his CNIC. It has been three years. He has failed to continue his education according to schedule. “I am fed up and afraid to go after my CNIC,” he now says. “What if I get killed in the process?” Muhammad’s fears are reasonable as two brothers belonging to the Hazara community were killed right in front of the Passport Office in Quetta.
Clearly, these unresolved issues have created a fair amount of anger. “The blocking of CNICs of Hazaras and Pashtuns is linked to the deterioration of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and the overall political landscape of the region,” argues Abdul Khaliq Hazara, the chairperson of the Hazara Democratic Party. “Even the deportation of Sharbat Gula, National Geographic’s iconic refugee girl, was to convey a clear message.”
More and more CNICs were blocked after 2012. Terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had threatened the Hazaras through a pamphlet to leave Pakistan by 2012. “Otherwise we will make Pakistan your graveyard,” it read.
Hazara have been living in today’s Pakistan since the mid-1800s. The very first group of Hazaras migrated from Hazarajat of Afghanistan to British India and served in the “Broadfoot’s Sappers” from 1839-1840. Hazaras were declared or officially notified a local tribe along with some Pashtun tribes in 1962. “It appears to look like there is a hidden agenda to undo that notification or go in that direction by revoking their citizenships,” argues Sardar Mehdi Hassan Musa.
Another student Fatima (not her real name) said that she could not continue with her studies because she did not have a valid CNIC. She could not get an ID card as her mother’s CNIC has been blocked for unknown reasons. “My mother applied for the renewal of her CNIC in 2014,” she told The Friday Times. “All her documents are registered in my father’s name (husband’s name) instead of her own parents. So NADRA blocked her data and referred her to the verification branch for further clearance.” Fatima was selected for the Prime Minister’s laptop scheme but was rejected on distribution day because she could not show them a valid CNIC. “Our entire future is at risk now.”
Needless to say, in Balochistan it is nearly impossible to move about without possessing a valid ID card. You need to prove your identity while passing through dozens of military check posts. For those Hazaras without a CNIC, movement thus becomes further curtailed. The situation drastically worsened after Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor was found to have been traveling on a Pakistani passport.
An elected local government representative from the Hazara community was affected by NADRA’s system: “My sister lives in Norway and has married a Norwegian Hazara of Afghan descent,” he said. “She wanted to apply for Norwegian citizenship two years ago and therefore needed to renew her CNIC and passport. The Pakistani Embassy in Oslo refused to issue her the required documents.”
The Hazara community does not have any political representation at the federal level, which may have been one way to bring up the issue at that level. The political parties who represent Balochistan at the national level are not interested in dealing with this particular issue for their own reasons. “We are peaceful and liberal people. We have never inflicted harm on anybody nor are we any sort of security risk for the state,” says Abdul Khalique Hazara, the chairperson of the HDP. “We are going nowhere. We will stay here and fight for our rights under the constitution of Pakistan.”
Repeated attempts were made to contact NADRA with no success.
The writer is a medical doctor and human rights activist from Quetta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @mSaleemJaved