ISLAMABAD, Aug 24: Legislators belonging to treasury as well as the opposition benches on Thursday termed the Pakistan Citizenship Act discriminatory against women and asked the government to review the law.

Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Dr Sher Afgan Khan Niazi said that he would send a request to the interior ministry to review the law and bring an amendment to it, if it was possible.

The issue came up for discussion when the National Assembly was informed by Dr Sher Afgan in a written reply to a question of Zulfiqar Gondal of the People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP) that there were 18 federal government officers in grade 17 and above whose spouses were foreign nationals.

The minister said that these officers had been granted permission by the Establishment Division and no case of an officer, who had not sought permission for contracting marriage with a foreign national, had been reported to the competent authority in the Establishment Division. The minister also provided list of the 18 officers with details of their designations and present postings.

During the supplementary question, Abdul Ghani Talpur of the PPP objected that the list did not contain the name of Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan, whose wife was also a foreign national. Dr Afgan asked Mr Talpur to himself tell the house about the origin of the foreign secretary’s wife. The opposition members shouted that it was the responsibility of the government to provide correct answers to the questions.

Khawaja Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N regretted that nationality was awarded to a foreign woman if she married to a Pakistani man, but if a foreign man married to a Pakistani woman, he was not granted nationality. Dr Sher Afgan said that if a woman was a civil servant then rules could be relaxed for her but the facility was not for everyone.

PPP’s Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan said that some MQM legislators had brought this issue before him in 1989 when he was the interior minister. He said the law stated that only a wife could get nationality. However, there was another clause in the law under which the government had been granted a discretionary powers to award nationality to any person.

Mehnaz Rafi of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) said that she had moved a bill seeking a similar amendment to the citizenship law, but it was rejected by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior.

Minister of State for Interior Zafar Iqbal Warraich said that the committee had unanimously rejected similar bills, moved by Ms Rafi and MQM’s Kunwar Khalid Yunus. He said the meeting was also attended by the opposition leaders like Samia Raheel Qazi of the MMA and Syed Khurshid Shah and Syed Qurban Ali Shah of the PPP.

Liaquat Baloch of the MMA said that it was an important issue as several families, migrated from India at the time of partition and Kashmiris wanted to marry their girls with their family members living in India.

Samia Raheel Qazi said that committee members had rejected the bill when foreign ministry officials told them that nationality was being granted on reciprocal basis and since India had not adopted the policy, Pakistan also could not grant their nationality to the Indians. Moreover, she said, the committee members were told that the amendment could not be made due to security concerns.

Following are the officers who were granted permission to contract marriage with foreign nationals:

Humayun Farshori (secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Islamabad); Javed Akhtar (press secretary to the PM); Dr Ikramullah Khan (associate surgeon, FGSH, Islamabad); Dr Fazal Dad Kakar (assistant director, Department of Archaeology, Islamabad); Rohail Baloch (additional secretary, Finance Department, Balochistan government); Saleemullah Khan (deputy secretary National Housing Authority, presently posted at Mirpur Khas, Sindh); Dr Ehsan Akhtar (senior scientific officer, PARC); Ghulam Mahmood Dogar (posted as SP Quetta); Simon Mumtaz (manager Pakistan Postal Services Corporation); Azhar Saeed Malik (section officer, Economic Affairs Division, posted in the UNDP); Capt (retd) Mohammad Shoaib (district officer, Frontier Constabulary, Oghi); Dr Abdul Majeed associate surgeon, JPMC, Karachi); Sania Riffat (director PIFRA, Lahore); Mahmood Alam Mahsud (accounts group, Auditor General of Pakistan, Lahore); Mohammad Idrees (research officer, ex-cadre BS-17, KANA Division, Islamabad); Jawed Manzoor (assistant divisional engineer, T and T Department); Asif Marghoob Siddiqui (Customs and Excise Group, Karachi) and Umair Khan (Export Promotion Bureau, Karachi, ex- cadre, BS-17).