Expats disappointed e-voting for overseas Pakistanis unachievable for 2018 elections

NADRA, in collaboration with ECP, introduced “i-Vote” in April for expats. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2018

Expats disappointed e-voting for overseas Pakistanis unachievable for 2018 elections

  • E-vote system to be tested during by-polls
  • Online voting system not ready, says ECP secretary

ISLAMABAD: Some 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad will not be able to vote in the 2018 general elections following the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday that deployment of an e-voting system in haste would be harmful. 
Expats have expressed disappointment at the decision.
“I feel like I have been stripped of my basic right in determining a leader I would associate my identity to. Being a Pakistani citizen residing aboard and not able to vote does not benefit me or the person I intend to vote for,” said Sonum Asad, speaking to Arab News from the US. 
Mehroz Adil, from the UK, told Arab News: “Every year false promises are made to the nation and nothing is validated. I honestly feel my vote would not make a difference” since “I am not given the right to do so.”
A three-member judicial bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, resuming a court hearing on the viability of electronic voting for Pakistani expats, was told by politician Imran Khan’s lawyer Faisal Chaudhry that implementing an e-voting system was unattainable given the short period of time available. Elections are scheduled for July 25.
Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad told the apex court that an evaluation of the e-voting project by professionals suggested that “more work over the online system is required” and “at the moment” expats cannot be extended the “voting facility.” 
An international feasibility study of the untested voting system had suggested holding trials before giving the public access, the ECP secretary said at an earlier court session attended by Arab News.
Nisar said: “It is correct that this procedure is not possible right now. I tried to provide this facility to the overseas Pakistanis. But it will cause an immense loss at this point.” He added that “the e-voting process can be reviewed during by-polls” but the task force findings on non-implementation of the online voting system is to be made public.
The court had decided to form a task force after hearing experts and lawmakers raise objections and fears about rolling out the country’s first online voting system for overseas Pakistanis in a matter of weeks. 
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed told Arab News that the suggestion for the task force was his idea. Nisar was commended on the e-voting initiative, but asked the court to approach the matter cautiously.
Nisar had taken the initiative on petitioners' pleas to extend the right to vote to 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad and ordered NADRA and ECP to devise a system.
NADRA, in collaboration with ECP, introduced “i-Vote” in April for expats. The judges quizzed NADRA on the voting portal’s security. NADRA said that measures against unauthorized access and known threats had been taken but foolproof security could not be guaranteed.
“There is no system that is 100 percent hackproof” said a NADRA official, and told the judges that a third party will need to evaluate and asses the system's fairness, integrity and security. The final product will cost about $1.3 million.
Experts from Pakistan’s three leading universities expressed their views on front-end visuals of the voting portal but were skeptical of the back end of the software, which required examination.
“This is a discredited model,” said Taha Ali from the National University of Science and Technology. “The world has moved away from this (voting model)” and gave examples of similar failed voting systems in the US, France, Germany and other countries.
Pakistan Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali also cautioned the court and said that deliberations had to continue to ensure voter secrecy, stability of the system and ease of implementation.
Anwar Mansoor Khan, one of the main petitioners seeking overseas voting rights, told Arab News: “There are delaying tactics being played. They can implement this. It is not a problem but there is a problem where various politicians don’t want this to be implemented” who don’t have a vote bank abroad.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 37 min 17 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.