ISLAMABAD: A majority of members of a parliamentary committee on Tuesday recommended issuing Pakistan Origin Cards (POCs) to persons who immigrated abroad due to financial problems by misrepresenting themselves as Afghan nationals.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a few of the parliamentarians, however, opposed such a move.

“Pakistanis who secured foreign nationalities as Afghan nationals should be treated as criminal offenders, not rewarded,” Senator Mohammad Ayub told the Senate special committee to provide mechanism for implementation of recommendations of the Senate committee.

Foreign Office opposes the idea

The committee met to decide whether Pakistanis living abroad should be given the facility of POCs to enable them to return to their country to attend weddings and funerals, and to be able to purchase properties.

“These were poor people. They escaped spillover effects of the Afghan war and poverty, and sought asylum in Europe. They contribute to the economy through significant remittances. Pakistanis should be extended all possible help wherever they are in the world,” said Senator Aurangzeb Khan.

Senator Sajjad Hussain Turi also saw no harm in issuing POCs to the Pakistanis who had extended families and roots in Pakistan. Chairman of the committee Senator Dilawar Khan expressed similar views.

A senior official of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) told the committee that it continued to issue POCs regularly.

“However, cases of persons who showed themselves as Afghan nationals and are now reclaiming Pakistani citizenship have to go through more scrutiny. Cases of individuals related to Pakistanis who sought foreign nationalities after declaring themselves as Afghan nationals had to be routed through the Ministry of Interior,” the official said.

The committee decided to involve the interior ministry on the matter in the next meeting.

Regarding the problems faced by expatriates due to the biometric system in banks abroad and at home, the committee was briefed by State Bank of Pakistan Executive Director Inayat Hussain that bank accounts of more than 95 per cent overseas Pakistanis had been verified biometrically. He said that the SBP was cognisant of the problems faced by people in far-flung areas who were not well-educated and unaware of the requirements.

“But Pakistan at this stage cannot afford to let the banking system go unverified. The SBP has relaxed the biometric verification requirement for Pakistanis who cannot return for the purpose and has put in place the provision of presenting just copies of passport and visa to complete the verification,” Mr Hussain said.

According to the official, Pakistan is being monitored by international bodies and is in a position to reject allegations of its citizens maintaining fake accounts.

However, Senator Nighat Mirza argued that the biometric verification system was difficult for the majority of illiterate and peasant class living abroad.

“This difficult process is pushing such people away from the legal banking channels and they are forced to resort to illegal channels to send money home,” she said.

In response, Mr Hussain told members that biometric verification was absolutely necessary for safety of account holders and not putting the financial system at risk.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2019