The National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA) move to declare Hafiz Hamdullah an alien and not a Pakistani citizen is devoid of all sense. How were the background checks never conducted before for an individual who has held some of the highest offices in government – a former Member of the National Assembly, a provincial minister and a senator till March last year? How did he get nominated or elected to any of these offices if he was never a citizen, to begin with?

As part of a family that has held key positions in both the bureaucratic and political set-up of the country – his father was an employee of the education department and a son is employed by the Pakistan Army – how is it that NADRA completely failed to recognise the citizenship question? At best, this sudden decision reflects incompetence; someone failed to do their due diligence and completely missed his status previously or have wrongfully identified him as an alien now. At worst, Hamdullah’s citizenship question was investigated earlier and was ignored, only to be brought up when he was seen to be creating issues for the sitting government, as leverage against him.

Either way, this is not a good look for both NADRA and the government. Background checks must be followed to the letter and not used as a means to pressurise individuals when they are seen to putting themselves at odds with the state. The state cannot choose to be lenient one day and decide to throw the book at someone the next. The law must be exercised equally in all cases, and not use discrepancies as a means to blackmail and coerce opponents to fall into line.

In the midst of his citizenship question, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has also weighed in and sent out a notification to all channels to deny Hamdullah any airtime, as a result of NADRA’s decision. PEMRA’s decision makes even lesser sense, considering there is no law in Pakistan that restricts foreign nationals from appearing on television and voicing their views. Hafiz Hamdullah’s vocal support for his party (JUI-F) and the upcoming Azadi March and the timing of the NADRA and PEMRA decisions indicate that his dissension is the main reason behind his citizenship problems. NADRA must issue a clarification on the process of its investigation and why it decided to reveal this information now, after all these years. PEMRA must realise that it is stepping beyond its jurisdiction in attempting to deny individuals airtime and must be reined in by the government. The state needs to do better.