‘Stranded Pakistanis’ to get voting rights in Bangladesh

July 24th, 2008 - 12:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, July 24 (IANS) Bangladesh’s Election Commission has moved to register the 160,000 Urdu-speaking ’stranded Pakistanis’ in its revised electoral rolls, thereby allowing them to vote for the first time in the history of the country liberated from Pakistan in 1971. Also dubbed ‘Biharis’, since a bulk of them moved from India’s Bihar province after the partition and creation of Pakistan in 1947, they were granted Bangladeshi citizenship through a high court verdict in May.

In its verdict delivered May 18, a Bangladesh high court said they were citizens of this country by birth and were entitled to be registered in the electoral rolls as they had been residing in the country since before and after the country’s independence, The Daily Star said Thursday.

An estimated 300,000 non-Bengalis who had originally migrated to East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was called then, refused to be part of Bangladesh and demanded repatriation. Negotiations with different Pakistani regimes over the years have resulted in about 100,000 persons being accepted.

The number of ‘Biharis’, living in 116 ghetto-like camps that are overseen by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), have swelled over the last 37 years.

While sections of the older generation still want to be repatriated to Pakistan, those who were minors or born after 1972 want to be part of Bangladesh, media reports have said.

Plans to register Bangladeshi citizens living abroad before the parliamentary election in December, however, remain uncertain.

The Election Commisson’s move to amend the electoral roll ordinance for this purpose remains stalled, it said quoting unnamed sources.

Election Commissioners Muhammed Sohul Hussain and Brig. Gen. (retd) M. Sakhawat Hussain visited Britain last November to study the feasibility of the plan to register expatriate Bangladeshis in the electoral roll.

Besides Britain that has large Bangladeshi population, nearly two million work in the Gulf region, a bulk of them in Saudi Arabia.

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