Dual nationality seems to be the buzzword nowadays in Pakistan. It seems as if it is on everyone’s lips, especially after the resignation of Pakistan’s two most prominent individuals, Special Assistants to Prime Ministers (SAPM), Tania Aidrus and Dr. Zafar Mirza. Now the question arises: what exactly is dual nationality? Simply put, it is when someone has citizenship rights of more than one country. This means that an individual has sworn an oath of fealty to two different countries at the same time.
With criticism levelled against the government for appointing ‘dual national’ Special Assistants to Prime Ministers (SAPM), Tania Aidrus and Dr. Zafar Mirza stepped down on 29th July after a petition was filed in Islamabad High Court.
Former Google executive, striving to develop Digital Pakistan since last year, announced her resignation on Twitter.
“I always was and shall be a Pakistani,” Aidrus stood steadfast, lamenting that “It is unfortunate that a Pakistani’s desire to serve Pakistan is clouded by such issues.”
An hour later, the combatant on frontline for Coronavirus, Dr. Mirza, followed suit.
“Due to ongoing negative discussion about the role of SAPMs & criticism on the gov, I choose to resign. Pakistani people deserve a better health care. I have worked sincerely to contribute to this cause. Flag of Pakistan will Inshallah emerge out of COVID-19 with a stronger health care system.” @zfrmrza
Due to ongoing negative discussion about the role of SAPMs & criticism on the gov, I choose to resign. Pakistani people deserve a better health care. I have worked sincerely to contribute to this cause. 🇵🇰 will Inshallah emerge out of COVID-19 with a stronger hlth care system.
— Zafar Mirza (@zfrmrza) July 29, 2020
With two of Pakistan’s most competent government officials leaving their posts, a pressing question is raised – what is, after all, Pakistan’s issue with dual nationality? Before we address this question, it is imperative to uncover what dual nationality is, and where it comes from.
Origins of Dual Nationality
Citizenship of an individual is integral to his/her identity, having consequences for one’s political rights of voting, holding public office, owning land and travelling with passport. Combination of custom, statutory and case law determine how a person acquires nationality of two countries.
A person becomes a dual national when at least one parent is a foreigner, they’re born on that country’s territory or they were adopted from a foreign national; they’re naturalised or they make monetary investments in that country; their spouse holds citizenship of the other country.
Pakistani Law: does it look down upon dual nationals?
Petitioners have raised concern regarding how, individuals who swear allegiance to another country, can be sincere to their work with regards to say, Pakistan’s national security? This scepticism is reflected in the Constitution of Pakistan;
According to Article 63 1-C, “A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Parliament if:-
- he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign State.”
Clearly, a national of Pakistan ceases to be one once he/she acquires citizenship of another country – Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951. PILDAT expands legal provisions so that dual nationals cannot hold high public offices of judiciary, armed forces, civil services and other statutory positions.
Dual Nationality synonymous with Dual Loyalty?
Pakistani law recognises that nationality of another country is attained for the purposes of unlocking greater economic opportunities. This undermines what is means to be a Pakistani – the person’s fate is no longer tied to that of Pakistan’s which may result in a lukewarm attitude towards rectifying the country’s institutions for the better.
Duality of nationality runs the risk of bias which can impinge on transparency of Pakistan’s nascent systems. For example, a conflict of interest can arise in the case of voting in favour/disfavour of a Parliamentary resolution on NATO supply routes.
Former Chief Election Commissioner, Justice Mirza recognised that a dual national must be disqualified from the Service of Pakistan yet, many sitting parliamentarians possess citizenship of other countries which illuminates the soft implementation of clauses
While it is true that remittances ($24 bn in 2020) sent by overseas Pakistanis boost Pakistan’s economy, for which dual nationality holders are respected but simultaneously, it must be recognised that it is meant for their families back home and it cannot be counted as a direct contribution for the benefit of country.
No standard international practices in Pakistan
Countries are not obliged under international law to recognise dual nationality, resulting in two extremes. At one end of the spectrum are countries who leniently grant dual nationals full rights whereas on the other hand, countries take stringent measures to revoke citizenship and place sanctions.
In the multicultural society of U.K., dual nationality is protected. Along with becoming a British citizen, individuals are allowed to retain nationality of their country of origin. Dual nationals henceforth, contest elections as long as they’re not members of another country’s legislature.
U.S. also permits entry of dual nationals in the legislature, singling out one exception. U.S. Supreme Court states, “Under our Constitution, a naturalised citizen stands on an equal footing with the native citizen in all respects, save that of eligibility to the Presidency.”
On the contrary, dual nationality is not recognised by the Indian Constitution. In order to be accepted as Indian, individuals are to renounce their former citizenship. An alternate is offered – Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) but, it doesn’t ensure political rights.
Pakistan’s take on dual nationality at variance with other countries
Pakistan falls somewhat in the middle of this continuum. Citizenship of a Pakistani woman is restored if her marriage with a foreign national ends and similarly, minors retain their citizenship as long as the father remains a Pakistani. Former Chief Election Commissioner, Justice Mirza recognised that a dual national must be disqualified from the Service of Pakistan yet, many sitting parliamentarians possess citizenship of other countries which illuminates the soft implementation of clauses.
PILDAT maintains that Pakistan is tolerant, conferring dual nationals the right to vote. Overseas Pakistanis scattered in 150 countries make up the world’s sixth largest diaspora, so out-of-country voting facility was a requirement which after more than 25 years of struggle, found a digital solution. Now, there’s a possibility that overseas Pakistanis would be able to exercise their voting rights in the upcoming polls of 2023 through I-voting system.
Weighing up the loss from Pakistan’s ‘singular’ nationality laws
Pakistan’s brain drain is rampant – with 2019 nearing its end, about half a million Pakistanis, mostly university students, packed their bags to leave the country. Throughout studies and stepping into professions, they’ve had the opportunity to claim dual nationality – the prospect of which seems more attractive than solely possessing green passport which globally ranks as low as 104th.
While Imran Khan was in opposition he used to say "foreign nationals should not be in government to run country's affairs but UTurn number 99,999 after being Selected PM – His 7 special assistants/Advisor running Naya Pakistan have dual nationality.#corruPTIonKiTsunami pic.twitter.com/OzPNkrDuWH
— Shahid khan (@Shahidk55985717) August 9, 2020
Many have lived a large chunk of their lives in Pakistan, but they remain deprived of political rights simply because they carry the label for being born in another country – for which they had no active choice. Is it fair to project criticism at them, especially when these patriots have good intentions to serve Pakistan?
As masses feel the loss of Aidris and Dr.Mirza, Pakistan is confronted with a dilemma. It must choose – competency or loyalty? After all, the ‘right’ passport did not stop many corrupt politicians from fleeing Pakistan, leaving the country to fend for itself. Were they any more loyal than their dual-national counterparts? A reframing of ideas is perhaps, then needed.
Global perspectives in combination with local knowledge, engendering a diversity of thought, may free Pakistan from the shackles of its regression.