Vote for Overseas Pakistanis could prove Disastrous

By Shabir Choudhry

As a matter of policy I do not criticise Pakistan or Pakistani politics, no matter what they do, as long as it does not affect Kashmir or the Kashmiri people. I do not like Pakistan or India to interfere in the affairs of my country, Kashmir, although I have no power to stop them. Whatever they do in their own countries I consider that their internal matter, and even when I feel strong about something I refrain from criticising publicly. But I have to oppose the decision of Pakistan government made very recently, because of its consequences on the Kashmiri people.

According to newspapers the Government of Pakistan is planning to give Overseas Pakistanis a right to vote in Pakistani elections. To many people this is the perfect recipe for disaster, and I tend to go along with this view.

The Pakistani community settled in Britain has more than enough problems on its plate, as it is, then why import more problems from Pakistan. Out of all the immigrants settled in Britain, perhaps the Pakistani community is most divided. There are many reasons for this. Religious differences have some part to play in dividing the community, but the most important reason is the ‘imported’ politics of Pakistan and Kashmir.

The first problem we will face, if the government goes ahead with this unwisely decision, is who is Pakistani. This identification process will create many problems for the Kashmiri and the Pakistani community settled here. It is no secret that tens of thousands of people who hold Pakistani passports do not regard themselves as Pakistanis. They regard themselves as Kashmiris, and holding of the Pakistani passport, which is a travelling document after all, does not make them Pakistanis. Kashmir is disputed territory just like Palestine, and Palestinians holding Egyptian or Jordanian Passport, which they use to travel from one place to another, does not deprive them from being Palestinian. They are just as good Palestinians as any one else can be. Similarly Kasmiris with Pakistani Passports are loyal and true Kashmiris, of course they are well wishers of Pakistan and would like Pakistan to flourish. I am sure they have similar sentiments for other Muslim States as well, and that does not affect their Kashmiriat.

This identification process to register who is Pakistani and who is not is bound to open Pandora’s box. Apart from this the lobbying of candidates will have some Pakistani flavour which will ultimately result in law and order problems on the streets of London. The Kashmiri and the Pakistani community in Britain is already wasting their meagre resources on the politicians from Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, and the right to vote will only aggravate the situation.

Other communities living in Britain do not have their political parties ‘imported’ from their countries, and that is one reason why they are more united and organized in Britain. We only have to look at the Indian Community in Britain, they don’t have any political parties imported from India, and they can concentrate their energies on other things that help them to establish themselves in Britain. It is very clear that the Indian community in Britain is doing better than the Kashmiri and the Pakistani communities. This is partly because they did not waste their resources on the politics of India, rather they worked hard to get into higher echelons of the British society.

To conclude, my request to the government of Pakistan is to do us a favour, and not go ahead with this plan. If they are so keen in granting voting rights to people then they are well advised to grant this right to the people of Gilgit and Baltistan who do not have any right of franchise. And if their belief in democracy is getting stronger then they are advised to sort the problems the democracy and democratic values confront in Pakistan. I hope all the thinking people will try to understand the problems, that we may have in future because of this right to vote, and oppose this move.

Shabir Choudhry
Director, Institute of Kashmir Affairs

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