In the past it has been pejoratively said that dual nationality is like polygamy with citizenship. While heated debates about dual nationality are now rarer, they were at their most acrimonious during the height of the Cold War largely because of fears about the loyalty of dual nationals and their potential for espionage and worse.
It’s interesting that the Supreme Court has invoked that argument in the recent suspension of Farahnaz Ispahani’s National Assembly membership on charges that she holds US citizenship, and the Court is also trying to determine whether Rehman Malik has actually renounced his British citizenship.
The first question we need to answer is, does this matter? Research done in America on Latinos suggests that dual nationals are less likely to participate in local elections, to be involved in two separate political systems is taxing leading to less involvement overall. That, of course, does not suggest that they are not valued members of their communities in either of their countries of nationality, but simply that they engage less with the political process. The research is not exhaustive I must caution, it isn’t conclusive.
So one could argue that dual nationality makes a nation less better off when it comes to political participation. But we need to keep in mind the enormous benefits of allowing people to have dual nationalities. We are dependent on foreign remittances; they provide us foreign exchange and tend to be a cushion against fidgety capital. Our workforce abroad needs protection and nationality acquisition is a good hedge for the individual and Pakistan itself. The EU is a good case of individual member nation’s subjects who are citizens (albeit loosely) of a larger confederation itself, a move made in part to develop better, fluid markets. In any case, with greater mobility, the concept of dual nationality is something countries will have to come to accept.
But we aren’t discussing average citizens here, so we move to the question at hand: should legislators be allowed to have dual nationality? No major country that I know of allows a dual national to hold high office. And Pakistan doesn’t as well, and it shouldn’t.
The reasons for that need not be as insidious as potential treason. First, there is the issue of equity — it gives some people double representation. Second, it creates ease of flight, and when holding political office that is the last thing that should be open to someone. Third, there are genuine reasons where dual nationalities for legislators can create conflicts of interest, especially between countries like the US and Pakistan whose purposes are not always aligned.
Academically, there is no evidence to suggest that there is more likelihood for a dual national to betray a country than a single nationality holder. But in countries with strong nationalism, like Germany and Pakistan, and security concerns, like America and Pakistan, dual nationality can become a lightning rod issue around the fear that it could create the breeding grounds for duplicity.
In the case of Ms Ispahani, there is definitely an equity issue, since having a foreign citizenship and then taking up a reserved women’s seat in the National Assembly means that it defeats the purpose of women’s seats at the very least. It’s unfortunate that it affects a legislator who is more active and competent than most, but the basic premise of what the Supreme Court did was right. The ruling would be complicated, however, if it turns out that she holds a Green Card (which means no voting rights) and is not a citizen. In that case an argument could be made that it has more to do with residence than accepting the anachronistic oath for citizenship for the US which clearly disqualifies one from being able to serve Pakistan as a member of parliament.
Some countries have laws that prevent spouses or children of legislators from being foreign nationals. In Pakistan, that would mean many of our rabid hawks would have to go, like Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan and a lot of the Jamiat.
Of course, the Supreme Court has not been wholly fair. It should use the same logic to disqualify party leaders who do not hold elected office on the same grounds enunciated for Farahnaz Ispahani.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2012.