VIEW : Dueling on dual nationality — Parveen Tarique
Not too long ago, Moeen Qureshi and Shaukat Aziz, both holders of dual nationality, were prime ministers. Where was the Election Commission then?
Given the state of the ‘Land of the Pure’ where there is shortage of water, electricity, gas, an abysmal law and order situation, and the army getting caught in the crosshairs of snipers and militants, the powers that be are pushing for bills like the contempt bill and the proposed dual nationality bill. The contempt bill has sailed through the National Assembly, and dual nationality has the parliamentarians and the elite class wondering what all the fuss is about, while the common citizen wonders what sins he has committed to be deprived of the necessities of life.
In 1951, the Pakistan Citizenship Act underwent amendments, because the original Act appeared incomplete. Therefore, the Pakistan Citizenship Rules 1952 were introduced. In 1971, Pakistan and Bangladesh separated. Citizenship needed to be re-addressed again at that time, and Kashmir being an ongoing conflict, needed to be addressed in the Act as well. Amendments are still taking place after 61 years.
Since independence, several changes in the Pakistani nationality law have come about because of the growth of expatriate Pakistani communities in the Middle East, Europe and North America. Dual citizenship was not permitted under the 1951 law, but now the government of Pakistan recognises and allows citizens to hold citizenship of 16 countries, which are, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Belgium, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the land of opportunity, the USA.
Fast forward to the recent scenario; had a move not been made against Farahnaz Isphani, media advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, Hussain Haqqani’s wife, as being a dual national of Pakistan and the USA, and a MNA to boot, perhaps things might have been different. However, then the news that our man for all seasons, Mr Rehman Malik, was also a dual national — in this case, Pakistan and the UK — was revealed, and with all the stories he spun, he has not given up his British passport. Slowly, all hell is breaking loose, with conspiracy theories making the rounds. (The latest reports say that he has given up his UK nationality and been elected to the Senate from Sindh.)
Article 63(1)(c) of our Constitution, clearly disqualifies a person from being elected and from being a member of parliament if “he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state”. Disqualification on this ground is part of our 1973 Constitution. The argument put forth is that one cannot wear two hats. You are either loyal to the country of your origin, or to the country whose citizenship you have acquired by swearing on the Bible allegiance to the Queen, or the star spangled banner as the case may be, and also take up arms in case of war.
Decades ago, Pakistan experienced a brain drain, with our best bidding adieu to their families and moving to greener pastures. They settled there, and remitted money back home. Some came back, could not adjust, and went back. Some refer to the dual nationality, Pakistan-UK, as a soft stance on the UK’s part, since monies, big monies are being transferred to its shores. And should things turn dicey here they can easily hightail it to the country whose passport they have. Things could not be better for the dual nationals; they have butter on both sides of their bread and still crave for more.
Those who belong to the upper class, the elite amongst us, say why not. Those who are dual nationals have their own agenda. They want to sit in the houses of parliament, enjoy all the trappings, and stash their ‘hard-earned money’ abroad. Here, they do not bother about paying taxes, pull all the strings they can, and if they even sneeze three times they zoom off to get themselves checked. They lord it over us, the common citizens, not realising that we are the backbone of this country. We till the soil, thereby helping to generate crops, take up backbreaking jobs and help to sustain all, and receive thanks occasionally.
One argument between the lines is that such persons, who are vying to become parliamentarians, and privy to various state secrets, should be permitted to do so. The logic behind this thought is that should such a situation arise with another country, these dual nationals would be a great help at the negotiating table. Another argument making the rounds is that if the overseas Pakistanis have the right to vote, they should be allowed to contest elections to become parliamentarians. This argument has elicited for and against arguments, evident in the writings of our learned columnists.
Not too long ago, Moeen Qureshi and Shaukat Aziz, both holders of dual nationality, were prime ministers. Where was the Election Commission then? Granted that Moeen Qureshi was the caretaker prime minister who was flown in, and flew out once the job was done, but what about Shaukat Aziz who also flew in? The million-dollar question is why the Supreme Court has issued, at this point of time, a wake-up call to the Election Commission to examine papers thoroughly. Why now? Is it to point out that the Election Commission has been sleeping on the job, or were behind-the-scenes strings pulled? Has the scenario changed so drastically that there are fears, that God forbid, could undermine the sovereignty of this land of ours? That somebody, somewhere will sell us under the table? However, another notable writer fears that those parliamentarians/elitists who support the dual nationality bill, would be responsible for placing the country under a de facto foreign rule. Then there are those who argue that Pakistan has already been given ‘thekay par’ (on contract) to Uncle Sam, and they argue that the question of de facto foreign rule is already in place.
However, coming back to the expats, one cannot doubt the financial contribution made by those who of late expect the doors of elected office to be open for them. Thanks to globalisation, and considerable movement of people across borders in search of better opportunities, nationality and identity have become relatively less rigid, posing the question, why does one assume that they have turned their back on the homeland? Dual nationality has stirred up a hornet’s nest, and some are getting stung, and arguments to and fro are continuing in the print media and the electronic media. Who will win is anybody’s guess.
The writer is a former news editor of a leading English daily and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org