Pakistan

As terrorists kill Hazaras, NADRA kills their identity.

Editor’s note: This piece was initially published in The Friday Times on 27 January, 2017.

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Hazaras are finding their ID cards are being blocked over citizenship proof.

 

(Dis)carded



For mainstream Pakistanis getting a national identity card (CNIC) or renewing one is taken for granted, as it should be. But for Hazaras it is a headache, to say the least. It is not just terrorism they suffer, but a systematic discrimination on multiple fronts as well.

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.

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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.

Documentation

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 dr.saleemjavid@gmail.com and tweets at @mSaleemJaved

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Who will be Afghanistan’s new president?

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in Dawn on 4th April 2014.

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The Nato withdrawal makes 2014 a year of tremendous historic importance both for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

With the troops’ withdrawal occurring by the end of this year, Afghan security forces will be solely responsible for the country’s security if the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which allows a fraction of US forces to remain in Afghanistan and assist Afghan security forces, is not signed by the government of Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai has already refused to sign the agreement despite the approval of the Loya Jirga — a traditional grand meeting of Afghan politicians, tribal leaders, activists and women that convened to take a decision on issues of national importance.

The reason behind Karzai’s refusal to sign the agreement is reportedly due to the ongoing secret peace talks between his government and the Taliban, as revealed by New York Times. Having said that, Karzai does not have enough time left in office with the elections around the corner.

It is important in this context to look at who the presidential candidates are and what promises they have made to the people of Afghanistan.

The Pakistani media, for unknown reasons, has ignored the latest developments in Afghanistan despite the fact that these developments are of grave importance to Pakistan’s future.

Afghanistan also views Pakistan with much significance, which is one of the main topics of discussions in the Afghan presidential debates.

Contrary to a popular perception in Pakistan that Afghan politics revolves around Pashtuns pitted against non-Pashtuns or South versus North, Afghanistan’s four major ethnic groups namely Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek have all been vying for power ever since end of the Taliban regime.

A Tajik and a Hazara have served as a first and a second vice president respectively in the palace since the first presidential elections and similar outcomes are expected in this one as well.

The Afghan constitution binds every presidential candidate to introduce his/her first and second vice presidents at the time of registration and the VPs play a pivotal role in the selection of ministers, provincial governors and other key officials.

There are eight men contesting in this year’s election. A number of televised presidential debates have been broadcast live on Afghanistan’s most popular TV channels since the official commencement of the campaign on Feb 2, 2014.

To find out who are the top favourite contestants, I contacted some prominent Afghan journalists, observers and activists and almost all of them agreed on the following names:


“Zalmai Rassoul, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah are the favourites. Although it is really hard to predict the situation in the coming weeks as many may change their sides and new coalitions may emerge. [Hamid] Karzai is trying hard to change the arena and there are signs that he might get what he wants”

Assadullah Shefaie, a prominent Afghan journalist based in London and associated with BBC Persian


“None of the presidential hopefuls and their teams is a dream team. Nor can the big challenges in Afghanistan be addressed in the next five years. However, Ashraf Ghani, Zalmai Rassoul and Abdullah Abdullah are more popular than others…Ghani and Rassoul haven’t been directly and heavily involved in the civil war. Both of them do not seem to be in opposition with the ideas of fundamental rights of citizens and press freedom”

A human rights activist based in Kabul who wished to remain anonymous


The top three contenders


Abdullah Abdullah


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A 54-year-old eye specialist, born in a senator’s family in King Zahir Shah’s last Senate, Abdullah Abdullah is a Pashtun from his father’s side and a Tajik from his mother’s side. Abdullah has a large vote bank among the Tajiks due to his close association with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the commander of the Northern Alliance assassinated by al Qaeda just days before 9/11.

Abdullah took refuge in Pakistan in 1984 and worked at the Syed Jamal-ud-Din Hospital in Peshawar. He then joined anti-Soviet forces and treated the fighters. After the takeover of Kabul by the mujahideen, he became a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry. He later worked as a caretaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Afghan government in exile, with the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate only getting recognition by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE. He was selected as Foreign Minister during the Bonn Conference in 2001 after the collapse of the Taliban regime and held the post until 2006.

Abdullah contested in the 2009 presidential election and succeeded to challenge Hamid Karzai by pushing the election into the second round but boycotted to run in the run-off with allegations against the Karzai administration.

Vice-presidential nominees:

1st Vice-President: Mohammad Khan, ethnic Pashtun, and Deputy Chief of Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA).

2nd Vice-President: Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, ethnic Hazara, and chairman of the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, locally known as ‘Hizb-i-Wahdat, Mohaqiq’ faction.


Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai


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Ghani, 65, is an ethnic Pashtun. He is an anthropologist and holds a doctorate from Columbia University. He taught at the University of Columbia and the Johns Hopkins University until 1991. He then served at the World Bank as an advisor on the human dimension to economic programs.

In 2001, he returned to Afghanistan as an advisor to Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Afghanistan. Subsequently serving as Finance Minister, Chancellor of Kabul University and chief of the Transition Coordination Commission (transition of responsibilities from Isaf to Afghan National Security Forces).

He also contested the 2009 presidential elections but received only three per cent of the votes.

Vice-presidential nominees:

1st Vice-President: Abdul Rashid Dostum, ethnic Uzbek, chief of National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, locally known as “Junbish”.

2nd Vice-President: Sarwar Danish, ethnic Hazara, and former minister of higher education.


Zalmai Rassoul


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A 70-year-old, ethnic Pashtun and medical doctor by profession, Rassoul worked at the Paris Cardiology Research Institute and a military hospital in Saudi Arabia. He played a significant role at the Bonn Conference and later returned to Afghanistan.

In 2002, he was appointed Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and also served as the chairman of the National Security Council. He was the Foreign Minister from 2010 to 2013.

Vice-presidential nominees:

1st Vice-President: Ahmad Zia Massoud, ethnic Tajik (brother of late Ahmed Shah Massoud). He served as the first VP from 2005 to 2009.

2nd Vice-President: Habiba Sarabi, an ethnic Hazara, and Afghanistan’s first ever female governor (of the Bamiyan province).


The Top Three on security, corruption, governance and Taliban talks


 Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s presidential hopefuls during a live televised debate. -Photo courtesy of Tolo TV

All of the above-mentioned candidates have openly announced their support for the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US and promised to sign it if elected.

Abdullah says “terrorist safe havens are the biggest threat” to Afghanistan, an issue he believes he has the ability to address with ‘international support’.

In a question as to whether the Taliban are the enemies of Afghanistan, he says:

The killers of innocent people, puppets of foreign countries and those who fight against the government violently are our enemies.

Although, he emphasises that “the government should listen to those who want peace.”

In addition to that, Abdullah campaigns for a decentralised system and suggests that “more power should be transferred to the provinces and political parties should be given stronger roles”.

In Abdullah’s opinion,

the Durand Line issue is a historic one which should not be an excuse for the free movement of terrorists and smugglers across the border.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, on the other hand, has identified the Taliban under different categories: “Ideological”, “foreign-sponsored” and “those who take up arms out of poverty and corruption in the system”.

Ahmadzai is of the view that, Pakistan and Afghanistan can solve their issues based on the France-Germany model”. He has also claimed that,

Contrary to Pakistan’s military establishment, the elected government of Pakistan has an understanding of the situation and respects Afghanistan’s sovereignty. Our first priority is the elimination of terrorism and the establishment of peace. Only then will we workout to solve the Durand Line issue.

Ahmadzai has also promised to call a Loya Jirga during the fourth year of his presidency to decide about any change in the system (from presidential to parliamentary), if elected.

Zalmai Rassoul was of the opinion that “security situations have different dimensions and must be dealt with accordingly”. Regarding the Taliban question, Rassoul appears to be harsher:

Anybody who accepts the current constitution is welcome to join the peace process but those who kill our people and burn our schools are our enemies. War criminals commit crimes against the people, and therefore, it is the people’s right to hold them accountable.

He, nonetheless, supports the continuity of the current presidential system. And he is the only candidate with a woman vice-presidential nominee.

“About 65 per cent of Afghan population is between 15 to 25 years of age,” says Rassoul, and promises to empower the youth and the country’s women, if and when elected.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in Dawn on 4th April 2014.

The author is a freelance journalist and human rights activist based in Quetta. He tweets at @mSaleemJaved and can be reached at dr.saleemjavid[at]gmail.com

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