Pakistan ID cards remove ghost voters, target poor for aid
By Katharine Houreld
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Elderly men wait patiently, carefully combing their hennaed beards, while a guitar-playing student entertains the long queue of Pakistanis lined-up to be photographed, fingerprinted and questioned inside a crowded office in the capital Islamabad.
This is the unlikely setting for possibly one of Pakistan's few success stories - a massive increase in citizens signing up for government identity cards.
Such things rarely top the agenda of a deeply unpopular government, crippled by daily power cuts, a Taliban insurgency and massive corruption.
But bureaucrats say the successful ID registration has dramatically cut the number of ghost voters and is assisting in the distribution of cash payments for the poor and displaced.
"The database has brought a lot of transparency. We signed up so many people," said Tariq Malik, the 44-year-old chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).
During elections five years ago, less than half of Pakistani adults had a government-issued ID. Now 91 percent have the plastic green cards, said Malik, who previously worked as a county technology officer in Michigan in the United States.
It is hard to verify such a high rate of registration as Pakistan's census data is many years out of date.
Malik said registration spiked after the cards were required for poor Pakistanis to qualify for cash payments from the government. Continued...