An Effective Registry

Pakistan’s national identity registration system, and the associated passport issuance system, have gone through countless evolutions throughout its history, with each iteration solving one logistical issue at a time. From manual ID cards and passports that needed to be signed by the officer in charge – and hence held up the queue and made them easy to forge – to a fully computerized and integrated system, our citizenry database has come a long way.

However, as a holdover from a bygone era, many problems still remain – beyond incremental increases, another modern reform is needed. The Interior Ministry’s efforts in this regard are right on time. As Pakistan continues to repatriate Afghan refugees, the need to ensure that computerised national identity cards (CNICs) and passports for unregistered aliens are restricted continues to grow in importance. Cross-border security hinges on a robust system that categorizes citizens and non-citizens, especially in the context of the porous western border. While border fences and checkposts have been opposed on the grounds that they disrupt historical linkages between border tribes, decades of violence and insurgency in the reason have superseded those concerns. Security comes first, and a secure border is key to that.

Similarly, the decision to increase the National Database Registra¬tion Authority (Nadra) in locations such as Multan, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad, and Rawalpindi is much needed. More centers reduce the notoriously long lines and waiting times at existing Nadra centers, and ease of access will encourage a larger portion of the population to bring themselves into the official registry. However, not all mooted reforms are necessarily good ideas. The recent suggestion by Director General of Immigration and Passports, Mustafa Jamal Kazi, that divorced women should have their former spouse’s name on their passport to prove the parentage of their children has been met with justifiable criticism.

Not only will the policy cause countless logistical issues – for example in the case of a woman who has been married multiple times and has children from each marriage – it is rooted in a regressive ideology where a woman has to prove her identity in relation to her husband or father. While the government has taken many positive steps in removing archaic, ideology-based regulations from our citizen registry, this move would be two steps firmly backward.

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