ISLAMABAD - Politicians, election officials and senior bureaucrats on Thursday sounded pessimistic about giving the voting right to overseas Pakistanis arguing the task is not only impossible but also ineffective.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Development that met under the chair of Mir Amer Ali Khan Magsi, PPP MNA, observed that the electronic vote for the overseas Pakistanis seems impractical and unfeasible.

Top officials of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis gave their input on the issue as the 21-member committee showed its unwillingness to embark on the ‘Herculean’ task of registering the overseas Pakistani community as voters.

Even Director General (IT) ECP Khizar Hayat said that the task to include overseas Pakistanis in casting votes would not materialise keeping in view the complications and the huge money that will be needed to enable Pakistani voters abroad to cast vote.

“How can a country be worried about its overseas community to get the right of vote when it cannot hold election in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)? We are just wasting time and money by talking voting rights for expatriates,” PML-N lawmaker Rana Afzal Khan told the panel.

Additional Secretary ECP Fida Muhammad said that the Middle Eastern countries that host millions of Pakistanis would not be able to afford thousands of voters gathered at different places for casting votes.

But NADRA officials and ECP informed the committee that different options are currently under consideration, however, till date postal ballot is found to be a suitable way for casting vote.

It was further stated that there are about 5 million overseas Pakistanis in the Gulf countries and majority of them know how to use the electronic machine for casting votes.

“We are thinking on many options but even then it will take time and billions of rupees besides raising a parallel ECP to entertain the overseas voters,” Fida Muhammad, the ECP official said.

“If the overseas voters are interested in participating in election, they should come to Pakistan and cast votes,” a PPP lawmaker Shagufta Jumani proposed.

“How will candidates in Pakistan campaign in foreign countries once overseas voters get voting rights? And what if overseas Pakistanis who are not dual nationals, intend to contest election? I think the idea is totally absurd,” Pir Sadruddin Shah, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis who is also ex-officio member of the Committee observed.

But it was later decided unanimously that IT experts from across the country should be invited by ECP in order to get their opinion whether they have any feasible solution to register overseas as voters.

NICOP CONDITION FOR OVERSEAS: The Parliamentary panel on the occasion recommended the withdrawal of the NICOP condition for emigrants/contract workers arguing the identity was not helping the overseas Pakistanis but filling the kitty of NADRA only.

PTI lawmaker Khial Zaman Afridi said that national passport was the only major identity abroad rejecting the argument of NADRA that NICOP was useful in giving Pakistani identity to expatriates.

Officials of Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment showed their concern regarding burdening of the intending emigrants/contract workers with NADRA fee for getting NICOP.

“It is an admitted fact that NICOP has no utility for intending emigrants and its charges range from Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,500. If Pakistani passport is taken by a company, the worker is given labour card for identity purpose. So why NADRA sells NICOP?” Chairman of the Committee Mir Amer Ali Khan Magsi said addressing NADRA’s Director General Operations Syed Zulfiqar Ali.

The NADRA officials on the occasion said the recommendations would be considered although they said that the authority will reduce the token fee for NICOP.

Aliya Kamran, a JUI-F MNA and member of the Parliamentary panel, said Pakistanis going abroad for employment under the Emigration Ordinance, 1979, are contract employees having only Pakistani passport who don’t need entry visa/permission under any law while returning to Pakistan.

“There seems to be no specific benefit of NICOP to the contract workers, because foreign employment or stay of emigrants is generally, for one to two years whereas the validity is for a period of five years or more,” she added.

The Pakistani passport is an internationally recognised travelling document as a proof of national identity. NICOPO has no such status.

NADRA officials informed the committee that in a bid to facilitate Pakistani’s expatriates, NADRA has launched the web based online processing of NICOP named as “Pak Identity”.

In this way, a person can apply through the web without visiting far flung Consulates/ NADRA offices. However, a lawmaker said that the condition of NICOP for emigrants should be withdrawn immediately.

They further said that Pakistani’s diaspora in different countries usually reside in scattered areas and most particularly these areas are far away from the Pak Mission/ Embassies. Overseas Pakistanis had to travel long way to reach the Pak Mission/ NADRA office.

The Committee members said that majority of the Pakistanis working in Middle East belong to poor strata of the society and are illiterate.

They asked the NADRA to report to the Committee about withdrawal of NICOP during the next meeting of the panel.