STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
It is fulfilling for a writer when the readers respond overwhelmingly. Thank you everyone. Allowing Overseas Pakistanis (OPs) the right to vote is a passionate issue for many. It has been a long time coming and next few months are crucial. After passage from National Assembly this Bill was to be presented in the Senate after review by the Senate Standing Committee. It got torpedoed in the Committee by the opponents, the combined Opposition, who kept boycotting its meetings.
As a consequence it will be taken up in a joint session of both Houses of the Parliament. It is an urgent and important issue. It will not be easy and there are many detractors. Both PML(N) and PPP will do their best to block it in every way possible. Especially the Noonies; they realize the consequences of opening these floodgates in Punjab. Their cronies in media will play along, downplaying the need and prevent the right of vote for the OPs. We have to be steadfast and push it in whatever capacity possible.
Here is an example to provide a flavor of arguments they use. Ahsan Iqbal is part of top PML(N) leadership. In a clip circulating on media he states “What do OPs know about the needs of their Constituencies? They should restrict themselves to where they live”. Interesting. What if OPs restrict the flow of billions of dollars flowing into Pakistan each month? You want to eat the fruits of this tree but are not interested in watering it? This exploitation has gone on for too long and needs to end.
I am convinced if it does not happen under PM IK, it will never happen. I make this bold assertion based on facts. PTI is the only mainstream party having its roots in Overseas Pakistanis. It was pointed out by Mehmood Awan, one of the PTI’s founding members, in response to my last article. According to PTI’s official records, the first Executive Committee consisted of seven founding members who had participated in its launch on 25th April 1996. Apart from Prime Minister Imran Khan and Late Naeem Ul Haque, all the other five were Overseas Pakistanis. They were Late Ahsan Rasheed, Mehmood Awan, Dr. Nausherwan Burki, Mowahid Hussain and me.
It clearly delineates the flavor of the Party. Each one of us, and a multitude of others, were fed up of musical chairs played by PPP and PML (N) in their self serving ways. We all believed that for Pakistan to move forward it was imperative to free it from the clutches of this corrupt mafia taking turns in looting the nation. The need of the hour was to have a society based on Justice. The message was beautifully verbalized by my friend Hassan Nisar. “Iqtedar main awam, Insaaf sare aam” translates “people in power and justice for all”. It took 22 years for the message to seep through in 2018.
After three years in power PTI is still struggling to combat the entrenched mafias. It requires thinking outside the box. What is the footprint of OPs in Pakistan? There are 8 million plus Pakistanis living abroad. Back home their immediate and extended family can range from 10 to 20 at a minimum. This translates into 80 to 160 million folks. Duly motivated and organized, their impact can be a game changer. We need to inject fresh blood into our antiquated and degenerated parliamentarians. The existing lot is mostly wedded to status quo; they represent elitist interests resisting any form of change. These shackles have to be broken.
What is the way forward? First and foremost legislation needs to be passed to entitle OPs to vote. The modalities of implementing this Bill will be crucial. It has to be online voting. Voting through embassies and consulates is a non-starter. The diaspora is widely spread out and restricting them to certain locations will nullify the whole purpose. Once the process is streamlined, a concerted effort has to be launched to motivate the OPs to register and obtain their NICOPs. PTI OIC and other organizations present in various jurisdictions have a key role to play. One hopes the sleepy diplomats can get mobilized to push the process forward.
Based on Pakistani addresses in NICOP, OPs will be able to enlist as voters in their Constituencies. It will be a time taking cumbersome process; however who said change is easy. Thus it is crucial for the legislation to be passed as early as possible.
The potential results could be a game changer. From Chitral to Karachi there are over a hundred constituencies which have a sizeable vote bank. It can influence the formation of the next Central and Provincial Assemblies. A Province by Province scrutiny indicates that 25 to 30 in KP, 45 to 55 in Punjab, 15 to 20 in Sind, and 3 to 5 Constituencies in Baluchistan have a sizeable OP vote bank. They can tilt the elections in favor of the Party of their choice.
It can be a tremendous landmark that can reshape our national destiny. We are running out of options trying to bring change under present system of governance. If this opportunity is missed we will be on course for far more drastic actions that could entirely alter the democratic dispensation. It is time for one and all to rise and shine and revive our dwindling hopes.