I HAD previously written on the Citizenship Act of 1951 and the fact that Section 10 does not allow a Pakistani woman to confer citizenship on a foreign spouse. Since then, I have received many letters from Pakistanis who are suffering because of this law or attached complications. Some of these bear recounting here, so that the absence of gender parity in the matter of citizenship is longer considered an abstract issue that is argued only at the highest levels of the state.
Many complex legal discussions do not focus directly on the 1951 law; nevertheless, they reflect the quandaries of those who want to claim Pakistan, but who Pakistan does not wish to claim.
Citizenship confers a sense of belonging and many Pakistanis who have been forced to go abroad either by circumstances or for economic reasons must have equal ability to confer citizenship and decide whether to return or maintain a robust connection to the place of their birth that is connected so deeply to their hearts.
There are many heartbreaking stories of those with strong Pakistani connections or of Pakistani origin being unable to visit the country.
Take the instance of one Pakistani woman living in Canada — whose case is typical of many, many more. A few years ago, the woman married a Pakistani-origin Canadian man who had never obtained a Nicop. Soon after their marriage, they had a daughter who, because she was born in Canada, automatically received Canadian citizenship. Now, the mother, who holds both Canadian and Pakistani citizenship, wants to apply for a Pakistani citizenship for her daughter. Even though the amended law permits her to confer citizenship on her daughter, the online form available via the Pakistan consulate general asks for the entry of the father’s CNIC or Nicop number.
Obviously, the father, being Canadian (and let’s not forget the mother cannot confer citizenship on a foreign spouse) does not have either of these documents. The consequence is that the daughter is unable to obtain either a Nicop or Pakistani citizenship.
As if this were not tragic enough, the actual reason her husband does not have Pakistani citizenship is appalling. In the messy aftermath of 1971, he was left behind with an aunt in Bangladesh, while his family, who had supported Pakistan, fled. He was never able to join his family and migrated to Canada when he came of age. Two wrongs, one a gender discriminatory law and another Pakistan’s inability to provide for those that claimed to belong to the country, continue still to make a wrong.
Another story comes from a woman whose family survived the 2002 Gujarat riots and left India soon after. An Indian Muslim and a neuroscientist, she married a Pakistani Muslim. Despite the fact that the two have resided in Sweden and that her husband can sponsor her for citizenship, she has been able to obtain neither.
Even though her family no longer resides in India and no longer carries Indian citizenship, she has been routinely denied a visa (let alone citizenship) to Pakistan. The situation is obviously quite difficult for the couple who are smart and talented and have a lot to contribute but continue to be rejected by his country.
Finally, here is the saddest story. It is the story of a now 87-year-old gentleman who was born and raised in Pakistan. He left Pakistan in 1957 for Canada and for many decades after, continued to travel back and forth between the two countries. Like many citizens of Pakistan origin, he did not have an issue with visas.
Then, in the later years of his life, this Pakistani was afflicted with two fatal diseases. Now ill and facing the last days of his life, he wishes to return to Pakistan, to the tiny village where he was born and where he passed his early years. He wants to do this for two reasons. First, he wishes to establish a trust to which he can leave money that could be used to help destitute widows, women and girls in the village. Second, he wants to die in his village and be buried next to his mother.
He can do neither of these two things. According to him, the Pakistani consulate in Vancouver, where he has repeatedly applied for a visa, has refused to issue him one. His efforts to obtain a Nicop through Nadra have also not been successful, despite repeated attempts, even in his condition of frail health.
In recent days, heartened by the government’s announcement that it would be issuing visas on arrival or e-visas, he returned to the consulate in Vancouver. The old man, whose last wish is to leave something for other Pakistanis, was reportedly told that the statement was ‘fake’ and that the consulate had no orders to do any such thing. He returned home resigned and ready to die in a foreign land.
It is heartbreaking to hear of such a story, particularly when it involves an elderly gentleman. All of Pakistani culture’s claims of having respect for the older generations seem to have evaporated, leaving only rude refusals and failures to come to the assistance of a man who wants to return to his homeland.
Most of these problems, the matter of amending Section 10 in the Citizenship Act, the corrections on visa forms that demand the father’s information (despite the amendment to Section 5) and the provision of visa-free or visa-on-arrival facilities for Pakistanis over 80 years old, are easy fixes entirely within the power of the current government. All that is needed is to revitalise existing bills to make amendments to the law, get them through parliament, and a few orders and inquiries by the foreign affairs ministry into what forms are requested and the particular condition of elderly Pakistanis. If anyone in the halls of power is listening, here is an easy problem to solve, that is, if anyone wishes to solve it in the first place.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019