At a conference organised online by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), speakers agreed that it was critical to help vulnerable groups such as undocumented seasonal workers and nomadic communities gain access to citizenship documents. HRCP has found that such individuals are largely unable to access healthcare, schooling for their children, social security packages, and Covid-19 vaccination, while many are unaware of the benefits of citizenship documents altogether.
NADRA chairperson Muhammad Tariq Malik said that a social contract between the state and its citizens was only possible if all citizens had a legal identity. ‘If the state cannot count you,’ he explained, ‘you cannot count on the state.’ He said that NADRA had launched its ‘inclusive registration drive’ for precisely this purpose, adding that alternative citizenship identity instruments should be made easily available to vulnerable communities such as seasonal workers in cases where they lacked the documentation needed to apply for a CNIC.
HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani said that, while access to a CNIC may be subject to scrutiny for ‘security reasons’, the state had become ‘security-obsessive’ at the cost of protecting people’s right to citizenship. NADRA should partner with community-based organisations to extend its outreach, she added, while the government in turn should value the work of nongovernment organisations rather than targeting them.
Former senator and HRCP Council member Farhatullah Babar suggested that a Senate Committee of the Whole be established to address the status of undocumented workers and stateless persons, adding that all persons resident in Pakistan should be provided some form of documentation that enabled access to at least some benefits, fundamentally to healthcare.
Punjab Assembly member Bushra Butt, KP Assembly member Ikhtiar Wali Khan, and Sindh Assembly member Rana Ansar agreed that all four provinces should work together to develop recommendations to facilitate people’s access to citizenship documents. Deputy speaker of the Sindh Assembly Rehana Laghari pointed out that the process was especially cumbersome for orphans, children born out of wedlock, and rural women whose mobility was restricted.
Tahera Hasan, director of Imkaan Welfare Organisation, pointed out that frontline workers were often unaware of changes in NADRA policy, such as when documentation requirements were simplified. Activist Usman Ghani explained that, for ethnic minorities such as the Bengali community in Karachi, obtaining a CNIC—even when possible—could take up to two years. Senior journalist Talat Hussain said that people who were not considered ‘relevant’ were not counted in the debate over access to citizenship.