Resident Pakistanis often take a dim view of overseas ones. A heated debate is currently raging about the bar on contesting elections on dual citizens. The ability to contest elections is a fundamental citizenship right in democracies, which is withdrawn only if there is strong evidence and justification based on larger national interest. Thus, incarcerated felons are universally banned from elections since there is irrefutable evidence of their tendency to harm others. How strong is the evidence that dual citizen members of parliament (MPs) will harm Pakistan?
Messrs Shaukat Aziz and Moeen Qureshi are often presented in this regard as imported prime ministers who harmed Pakistan. Ironically, both were American green card holders who possessed only Pakistani citizenship. Thus, such fly-by-the-night types remain eligible to contest Pakistani elections. Secondly, while their economic policies were flawed, the harm they inflicted is nowhere close to that inflicted by many Pakistani-only, permanently resident PMs. Finally, Jinnah was actually Pakistan’s first imported leader who settled in Britain, bought property there and joined British politics before returning to lead the freedom movement.
The sensible thing would be to have residency requirements, like other countries, making it mandatory for candidates to have had their primary residence within not only Pakistan but also a specific constituency for at least three to five years. This would bar both fly-by-the-night expatriates and resident politicians who contest from multiple constituencies without having roots there.
It is also feared that dual citizen MPs will be loyal to their adopted countries and face conflicts of interest. Dual citizens have been Pakistani parliamentarians for decades. If one looks at past performance, how many such MPs have faced conflicts and how many of them have favoured the adopted country over Pakistan during those decades? Dual citizens who met the above residency requirement despite having the option of living abroad would be more loyal to Pakistan than two-thirds of the resident Pakistanis who want to leave Pakistan, according to a recent survey. Moreover, such conflicts are rare. Even if they occur, people can usually adopt positions which do not harm either country.
Third, even if resident dual citizen MPs are occasionally forced to favour one country, they would most likely favour Pakistan, where they were born, over a country where they are naturalised citizens and have less to lose in opposing it. Even if the odd MP favours the latter, their Pakistani legislative membership could be immediately terminated for breaking their MP oaths. True, for certain critical positions, this post hoc termination could prove costly because of the enormous responsibilities and authority that they hold. Thus, for critical elected and even unelected positions, for example, prime ministers, ministers, and governors of the State Bank of Pakistan, it makes sense to have more stringent citizenship and financial propriety requirements than for ordinary MPs. Thus, there is neither clear logic nor evidence to take the extreme step of barring resident dual citizens from being elected ordinary MPs given their limited powers. Pakistani parliamentarians have inflicted much harm; however, none of it is due to them being dual citizens.
People also question whether overseas Pakistanis really benefit Pakistan. Some believe that expatriates can only benefit Pakistan by returning and making heroic sacrifices. A common reaction to foreign remittances is that expatriates send them not out of love for Pakistan but for their families. But this reduces the large trade deficit that resident Pakistanis produce annually. Indo-Chinese expatriates have benefited both countries through personal remittances and business investments.
It is time to abandon this outdated, sentimental vision of the sacrificing expatriate hero/ine and saviour eventually returning home out of love for the homeland. Such hero/ines may occasionally emerge. However, most expatriates will help Pakistan from abroad while pursuing their self-interests.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2012.
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