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Fake identities

July 25, 2012

A British tabloid’s exposé of the ease of obtaining fake identity documents and UK visas in Pakistan has become a scandal of international proportions because of its link with the upcoming Olympics. But the problem is not a new one. Despite the money and expertise that has been poured into modernising CNICs and passports in recent years, getting hold of fake ones remains shockingly easy. The old days of manual processes for creating these documents are long gone. But even now, when they are computerised and managed through automated processes and electronic databases, the systems — which apparently meet international standards — remain vulnerable to corruption. If you can find an agent with the right links inside Nadra and the passport directorate, procuring another person’s identity is simple enough for anyone willing to pay a price.

And as long as it doesn’t crack down hard enough on people on the inside who are willing to tamper with the process, Nadra, where the CNICs that become the basis for fake passports originate, has limited options. It can continue building more sophisticated checks into the system, but much of the technology used is already world-class, including software that carries out fingerprint and photograph matching. Ultimately, the problem comes down to corrupt individuals being willing to manually override systems and tamper with records for a fee. While there have been multiple raids within Nadra over the years, many of which don’t make it into the media, they have obviously not been effective enough as deterrents. Fixing responsibility is not difficult — the names of operators are entered at every step of the process — so this seems to be a simple enough matter of being more vigilant about detecting irregularities and cracking down more frequently on operators on the inside and agents on the outside.

Despite the implication that the UK visa scam could have been used to smuggle terrorists into the Olympics, at the moment this seems like pure speculation. And the history of Islamist terrorist attacks in the UK indicates that it is largely a home-grown problem there. But for Pakistan itself, this is a national-security matter. Fake Pakistani documents have been found on foreign terrorists, including former Iranian Jundullah head Abdolmalek Rigi and Ramzi Yousef, and been used by members of banned Pakistani outfits to leave the country. So while such forgeries take place in other countries too, in Pakistan’s case they are particularly risky, further damaging its international reputation and allowing domestic militants to get away. World-class systems may be in place, but Nadra and the pass-port directorate need to carry out some significant housecleaning.