Pakistan's rigid system of prohibiting Muslims from changing their religion status on their national ID cards nearly cost a Punjab politician his post –- even though he has always been a Christian.
Rana Asif Mahmood's political opponents sought to disqualify him from the Punjab Provincial Assembly seat reserved for minorities in April, on the grounds that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) identifies him as a Muslim.
Mahmood said that NADRA had mistakenly identified him as a Muslim because of his name and then refused to rectify the error. The mistake not only cost Mahmood a cabinet position, but also his part in proposing the provincial budget for 2012-13, he said.
The law establishing NADRA prohibits Muslims from changing the religion column on their Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC), though non-Muslims can easily obtain such changes –- especially if they are converting to Islam.
"The situation was revealed to me when my son applied for a CNIC a few months ago," Mahmood said. "He was told that he could not put down Christianity as his religion because the records showed his father to be a Muslim."
When he approached NADRA officials for corrections, Mahmood said, they told him that there was no provision for changing the religion entry. He said that his passport identified him as a Christian, and that twice he had his religion section corrected on his passport because of the NADRA error of listing him as a Muslim.
Mahmood's political opponents filed a petition seeking his removal from one of the seats reserved for minorities based on the error. Opposition parties accepted Mahmood's clarification only after he vehemently stated on the floor of the Punjab Assembly that he was born a Christian and appealed to them and the media not to indulge in propaganda against him that could incite Muslim extremists to kill him.
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