The recent suspension of Farahnaz Ispahani and Rehman Malik from the National Assembly and Senate respectively are sensational stories but have not established a trend in terms of protecting sovereignty through guarding vital information. It must be remembered that the Supreme Court had expressed its concern regarding the possibility of Farahnaz Ispahani being given the task of spying for the US. Surely, it is important to guard secrets but this is the opening of a Pandora’s box. The issue requires serious policymaking and not just a court decision.
Although most people will deny having dual nationality, the fact is that several members from every political party have a dual nationality. Reportedly, the PML-N has about 35 such members in the National Assembly and the Senate; the MQM has nine and the PML-Q approximately 14. These people might not have disclosed dual nationality as the law permits them to retain dual citizenship. In the 2002 elections, the Musharraf government, in particular, had encouraged many Pakistani expatriates to come and join active politics and become members of the assemblies. So, the issue of cheating the law does not necessarily arise here.
But the more important question is that is parliament the only source for leaking of information? Or will this rule just be applied to elected representatives who may have less information than many others in the state apparatus? It was almost a year ago that the honourable CJ had administered oath to a Canadian national (dual nationality of course) as the auditor-general of Pakistan. This was done after a lot of noises in the media regarding his several passports and his open admission of having dual nationality. In fact, he came on television and said that the law permitted him to have dual nationality. It is worth reminding that the auditor-general of Pakistan has access to far greater confidential information due to his being the keeper of the expenditure of all government money.
May one also remind the honourable court that it was and still is quite fashionable for affluent Pakistanis, which includes senior military, civil bureaucracy and judiciary, to seek dual nationality to secure the future of their children. So there are hundreds and thousands of cases in which state functionaries and even members of the judiciary or their families have dual allegiance. Around a couple of decades ago, even spouses with foreign nationalities was not a welcome affair and officers in certain key ministries such as the Foreign Office and the military would have to seek permission before marrying foreigners. Surely, there is much danger in loose pillow talk. However, this changed, especially as countries like Canada and Australia opened up to migration by foreigners and Pakistan’s internal insecurity problems increased.
The vital issue at this stage is how to bell the dual nationality cat? Where does one begin to redraw the principle of allegiance to the state, particularly in a state that has the tradition of generous norms on the issue? It’s not just a matter of what other countries such as India, the US and others do, but what was practiced for so long in this country. Pakistan is in the habit of importing expatriate Pakistanis to perform sensitive jobs such as running the economy and even the country sometimes. Twice, we have imported prime ministers from the US and there is a long line of finance ministers and other people obtained for senior positions courtesy the IMF and the World Bank. Very senior finance people such as Dr Ishrat Husain or the (late) Dr Mehbubul Haq (and spouse), for instance, have a permanent residence in Washington DC to which they return (or used to return) regularly. Surely, there is a lot that travels back and forth without causing any great risk to the state, or unless there is something we don’t know about these people.
Thus, the ruling may not be as easy as it sounds because it now requires a serious rethink on where and how to draw a line as far as allegiance to the state is concerned. Such rethink does not fall in the purview of the court but the parliament and the political community at large.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2012.
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