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Pakistan prepares law to give expatriates a voice

Pakistan is preparing a law that would give its people living abroad representation through a seat in parliament, a government minister told expatriates.

Pakistan is preparing a law that would give its people living abroad representation through a seat in parliament, a government minister told expatriates. Dr Farooq Sattar, the newly assigned minister for overseas Pakistanis, made the announcement during his first appearance in front of the Pakistani community at a gathering of businessmen and prominent expatriates in Dubai. Representation in Pakistan's national assembly has been a long-standing demand among expatriates living in the UAE.

"We agreed to prepare a piece of legislation which would create a few seats for overseas Pakistanis to our national assembly, to our senate and to our provincial legislature," said Dr Sattar. "This exists in some of the most modern countries of the world like China, Germany and Italy, where overseas citizens have representation back home in their own parliaments." The minister was speaking at the Pakistan International Council - Middle East seminar on Sunday, which was organised by Javed Malik, Pakistan's ambassador at large. The event was also attended by Babar Ghauri, Pakistan's minister for ports and shipping, and Syed Kamal, the mayor of Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi. Speaking to a packed hall of expatriates the minister promised that all arrangements would also be made to facilitate voting for overseas Pakistanis.

"They should be provided with every facility that their right to vote is ensured," he said. He announced that he would also work towards subsidising the remittances sent home by overseas Pakistanis, and would include legislation to protect them. "Overseas Pakistanis are our roaming ambassadors and we want to ensure that they are able to communicate the right image of the country to the world," said Dr Sattar.

He said the government was working on adding more vocational training centres, so there would be more skilled workers available to take jobs abroad. Dr Sattar promised that his office would co-ordinate with others around the world to study the effect of the economic slowdown on expatriate Pakistanis. "We are trying to ensure that the expatriate community are able to sustain themselves in the foreign countries," he said.

Pakistani expatriates at the meeting welcomed the announcements. Tariq Hussain Butt, president for the Pakistan People's Party Literary Forum in Abu Dhabi, said it was the first time the government had openly discussed such a move. "In democracy, you have to take with you all the sections of society," he said. "If you don't take overseas Pakistanis, it means you are missing the one very important channel of society, it's a chain. For issues such as foreign remittances, they should have their own representatives from outside. "They will make a difference if they are determined, we will be a bigger partner in the PPP government, we want that. We are putting pressure on them to do it."

Kiran Khan, who works in Dubai for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, said she welcomed the opportunity to vote. "We never end up voting because we have to travel to Pakistan, we want to travel back but the political situation gets so bad that we can't go," she said. "We would feel included. Right now, it's like an us and them. That boundary will end up thinning out." Dr Ishrat ul Ibad Khan, the governor of Sindh, said the biggest challenges to his country were from terrorism and poverty.

"By and large the Pakistani people are moderate but there is a fringe minority that indulges into extremism," he said. Mohammed Ashraf, an engineer in Abu Dhabi, said the newly elected government should focus on problems at home before overseas Pakistanis. "They need to realistically bring their country back to a normal situation, start channelling whatever profit the government makes back into the country," he said. "The biggest example is the government, they waste so much money on luxuries."

Javed Malik, the ambassador-at-large, also announced the Prime Minister's Global Pakistani Award to be given out each year to celebrate Pakistani achievements and friends of Pakistan living overseas. pmenon@thenational.ae asafdar@thenational.ae

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