While some segments of the overseas population are happy with the decision, not everyone shares the sentiment
There are more than 9 million Pakistanis living abroad. This makes them one of the largest immigrant populations in the world. They contributed around $23 million to the national economy this year. Recently, the government conferred the right of vote on eligible overseas Pakistanis. The decision has led to a lot of controversy in the national political discourse.
Most overseas Pakistanis are economic migrants. Away from home, they usually steer clear of political activities. Meanwhile, overseas Pakistanis play a definite role in the economic progress in Pakistan by sharing their savings with their families.
Exactly how does the right to vote in Pakistan benefit overseas Pakistanis?
Most analysts are of the view that while some segments of the overseas population will be happy with the decision, not everyone shares the sentiment. The general perception is that overseas Pakistanis with political affiliations are expected to benefit most from the right to vote. But there are also those who fear that this will cause fissures within the diaspora.
In the UK, there are more than two million British Pakistanis, and about two hundred thousand Pakistanis. Confrontational politics has been a recent trend among the diaspora in the UK. In the recent past, British Pakistani supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) have been engaged in political confrontations resulting in protests in front of residences of leaders of the party they oppose. Some Pakistanis argue that these protests have little to do with political expression in a democratic system. Instead, they says, these have become a source of shame and embarrassment for most Pakistanis. The agitation has at times resulted in situations where the locals have had to complain to the police. On several occasions, clashes between workers of the two parties have forced the police to intervene. These incidents have come to the notice of other governments as well.
Many Pakistani parties have local wings in the UK and the Europe. These parties and their workers in the UK appear to be increasingly invested in the politics and political activities in Pakistan.
As bitterness and animosity have grown more intense during the electoral and political activities in Pakistan, a similar political culture appears to be taking root among the Pakistani diasporas abroad. Despite efforts by some leaders of the community to overcome political differences within the diaspora, divisions among people in mosques, madrassahs, and community centres appear to have been aggravated. More people now prioritise their political affiliations at social forums as well.
Given the situation, the Pakistani Kashmiri community appears to be increasingly distancing itself from the Pakistani diaspora, further widening the gap between the Pakistani and Kashmir communities.
This scribe spoke to several Pakistani families living in the UK who no longer have relatives living in Pakistan and no strong political preferences there. Among them are Waqar Asghar and Humaira Ehtisham. Both wonder who they would vote for and why. They say most of their problems, and the solutions to those problems, have nothing to do with partisan politics in Pakistan. They say they have little interest in what these political parties are doing or will do in Pakistan once they come into power. Asghar and Ehtisham say that many British Pakistanis face problems like illegal occupation of their properties in Pakistan, pending cases of murder and other crime involving some family members etc. They say that the right to vote can hardly help solve their problems.
Some experts say that if seats are reserved for overseas Pakistanis, this may result in a more factual representation of overseas Pakistanis. They believe that this may also help address their problems to their satisfaction. There are also concerns that the grant of right to vote for overseas Pakistanis may require a new system for e-voting or in-person voting at embassies that may be an additional financial burden.
While the outcome of this decision remains to be seen, it is pertinent to mention that dual citizens are not eligible to participate in general elections in Pakistan. This has led some people to question the legitimacy of allowing them to vote in general elections. The solution, perhaps, lies in improving the judicial, political, and social justice system in Pakistan. Also, doubts about the fairness of electoral system in Pakistan may impact the enthusiasm with which overseas Pakistanis may participate in such elections. Many analysts are skeptical. They say that this is a new experiment with few obvious advantages and some clear disadvantages.
The writer is a correspondent for Geo News, daily Jang, and The News in London