In a petition, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has requested the Supreme Court of Pakistan, on January 17, 2018, to declare the overseas Pakistanis citizens of Pakistan, recognising their fundamental right to utilise their right of franchise whether in Pakistan or abroad. The PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, contended that the “citizens of Pakistan working abroad, residents or otherwise living abroad, are contributing to the development of Pakistan by their hard earned assets and are involved in strengthening the economy of Pakistan by remitting foreign exchange back home.”
We can divide expatriate Pakistanis into two categories: one, Pakistanis living and working abroad, and two, holders of dual nationality. The Pakistanis in the first category are mostly working in the Middle East, where no foreigner can acquire citizenship. These overseas Pakistanis are poor workers, who contribute lion’s share — almost 70 per cent — to the total annual remittances by the Pakistani workers abroad. In contrast, the contribution of expatriates living in the West is only 30 per cent to the overall remittances received in the country.
As per law, there is no bar on expatriates having only Pakistani nationality to contest election and hold public offices. However, the expatriates of Pakistan origin, holding dual nationality, can come to Pakistan and enjoy all rights admissible to the citizens, including casting of votes or choosing their representatives during elections. But, under the existing provisions of the Constitution they cannot become Members of the Senate, National Assembly and the provincial assemblies unless they surrender their foreign nationality and loyalty to the adopted country.
Pakistan’s Constitution, under Article 63(1)(c), prohibits persons having dual nationality from contesting elections and representing the citizens in legislative bodies and holding public offices. Furthermore, Article 5(1) of the Constitution, under the heading ‘Loyalty to State and Obedience to Constitution and Law’, asserts that “loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen.”
The bar on the holders of dual nationality is logical because the Parliament frames laws and policies and holds discussions on issues of national importance, including matters concerning the country’s defence, foreign policy and improvement in the life of the citizens. Such individuals whose loyalties lie elsewhere cannot do justice to this onerous work of strategic nature.
Can a person be loyal to two states? Certainly, not. For that very reason, people acquiring citizenship of another country are often required to surrender the citizenship of their country of origin. Generally, such persons are also required to make an oath, as is the case in the United States of America. While acquiring citizenship of the USA, every person is required to make an oath to renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any other country. Therefore, on May 25, 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan held that dual nationals have no right to represent the people of Pakistan and decide the issues of national importance, being members of different committees, including defence etc; where all open and secret policies for the betterment of the people are discussed.
While filing nomination papers, the citizens of Pakistan desirous of contesting elections have to give a declaration, in writing, that they are not the citizen of any other country. However, dozens of members of the past legislative bodies, at the time of contesting elections, concealed their dual nationality and thus cheated not only the Election Commission of Pakistan but also the nation and the State. While filing nomination papers, if they had declared that they are citizens of some other country, their nomination papers would have been rejected then and there. Therefore, while agreeing to the demand to make arrangements for enabling the overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote to elect their representatives, we need to make foolproof arrangements for blocking election of dual nationals to the country’s legislative bodies and other top slots of the State.
In 1994, a member tabled a resolution in the National Assembly (NA) demanding that dual nationals be identified and disqualified as such persons were not eligible to contest the election. The NA took up the resolution on a Private Members Day. When the suspected foreign nationals and their patrons/sympathisers learnt about this resolution, they foiled the bid through intensive backdoor efforts. There is a possibility that some of the dual nationality holders amongst them could be proxies of their newly-adopted countries, which have sent them here to look after and promote their interests! The holders of dual nationality should not, therefore, be allowed under any circumstances to contest elections because such an arrangement has the potential to destabilise Pakistan.
Furthermore, most of the individuals holding dual nationality have assets and accounts abroad. Though most of them might have acquired those assets through business activities, in many cases they had acquired assets abroad by transferring funds from Pakistan through non-banking channels.
To protect and promote their business interests, in the past, even some industrial houses have been fielding their nominees in elections. When General Ziaul Haq opted to have a civilian façade for his rule and announced elections to the Majlis-e-Shoora, one of the leading industrial houses of the country motivated one of its employees to contest the election. That fellow not only got elected to the Majlis-e-Shoora, he became a federal minister and was later elected to the top slot in the Majlis. Likewise, foreign countries or their special agencies could field pliable persons amongst the dual nationality holders to contest the elections, get them elected and then elevated to sensitive positions!
Sometimes, special interest groups also try to control powerful unions/associations or professional bodies by infiltrating their moles, who do their best to take over the control of those organisations. If they fail, then they create hindrances in the smooth working of those organisations. If the holders of dual nationality are permitted to contest elections what is the guarantee that the opportunity would not be grabbed by foreign powers or their special agencies to get their hirelings elected to the legislative bodies, aimed at turning these elected forums into fish markets or grabbing sensitive public offices!
If leaders want democracy to grow and flourish in the country, they need to keep the long-term consequences of their actions in view rather than gamble for short-term gains. Furthermore, if decisions in the larger national interest are avoided, the citizens will be constrained to think that politics in this country has been reduced to a farce to protect and promote the vested interests of the privileged few. A thinking of this nature may greatly harm politics and growth of the political process and, ultimately, the country as a whole.