In defence of dual nationals

Published: March 16, 2013

The writer is advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and senior partner at Mandviwalla & Zafar

Dual nationality bashing has become common in Pakistan where it is still believed that citizenship and political loyalty to the state are inseparable. This was indeed the case in the mid-19th century when it was felt by developed states that dual nationality should not be allowed as immigrants from developing countries will retain loyalty to the country of their birth. With the changing relationships between nation states, emergence of democracies, development of international trade and commerce, and decreasing probability of wars, more than half of the world’s states now tolerate some form of dual nationality.

People forget that of the $12 billion remitted into Pakistan in 2012, a substantial portion was contributed by these dual nationals. The fact is that opportunities of employment and business in Pakistan are scarce, forcing many to seek fortunes abroad. Others may choose dual nationalities for various reasons: greater opportunity of trade and commerce, freedom of travel or simply access to education. The point is that there is no reason why we should doubt a Pakistani’s allegiance only because he is a dual national. While physically these Pakistanis may live abroad, their hearts and souls are still in the country of their birth. They are indeed more informed and concerned about Pakistan and just as patriotic as we who are living here. Most of them give regular support, in cash or kind, to the causes of Pakistan to various charities and are loyal friends of Pakistan.

Pakistani law allows Pakistani citizens to have dual nationality, the rationale behind which is that dual nationals act as Pakistan’s ambassadors abroad, participate in developing Pakistan’s economy and watch out for Pakistan’s interests. This means that all rights guaranteed under the Constitution, including the right to vote, fundamental rights, participation in matters of public importance and access to courts, become available to them.

Dual nationality is reciprocal. For example, under UK law, once British nationality is given to a Pakistani, the person becomes a British citizen with the right to obtain employment benefits, receive free healthcare, join political parties and even hold public offices. No discrimination is made only on the basis that he still holds a Pakistani passport. It is very natural for the British public to assert that such ‘Pakistanis’ would not be loyal to the British and that they should be treated differently, but this is not the case. I have met many people of Pakistani origin involved in British politics who have kept an equitable equilibrium in their loyalty to their adopted country and love and concern for Pakistan. They have raised voices at all levels whenever interests of Pakistan are involved. If the British system has accepted them as their own, there is no reason why we should not acknowledge born Pakistanis as true Pakistanis. Having said this, the framers of Pakistan’s Constitution decided that a person holding dual nationality cannot contest elections. This is because in 1973, the world’s attitude towards the dual nationality issue was still changing. I hope the time will come when this discrimination, too, will be done away with.

I, like many others in Pakistan, was extremely disturbed when the Supreme Court questioned Dr Tahirul Qadri’s right to challenge the constitution of the election commission on the ground that he holds Pakistani-Canadian citizenship. The petition’s dismissal has raised the question of whether a dual national Pakistani is a second-rate citizen who has no right to be concerned with Pakistan’s political system and democracy and cannot file a case for enforcement of fundamental rights. In many cases, the Supreme Court has reiterated the principle that to participate in politics is every citizen’s right. How can access to justice for the enforcement of this right be denied to a citizen who holds dual nationality?

Instead of attacking others for acquiring another nationality, we all need to respect their choices. To stop the exodus of skilled Pakistanis, we have to make Pakistan a land of opportunity, peace and tolerance. Sectarian killings, destruction of Christians’ homes, corruption and absence of rule of law are the negatives which need to be addressed.

Let me say allegiance is not exclusive; it is earned.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2013. 

Reader Comments (16)

  • Fed Up Indian
    Mar 17, 2013 - 12:02AM

    It is very natural for the British public to assert that such ‘Pakistanis’ would not be loyal to the British and that they should be treated differently, but this is not the case. I have met many people of Pakistani origin involved in British politics who have kept an equitable equilibrium in their loyalty to their adopted country and love and concern for Pakistan. They have raised voices at all levels whenever interests of Pakistan are involved.
    .
    Does your “Lord” Nazir Ahmed happen to be one of them?
    Let’s have a quick recap of some of the things he said.
    .
    1. Offering a 10 million pound bounty for capturing Obama and Bush?
    2. Texting while driving in London, killing a man in the process, receiving only a 12 week sentence, and then blaming it on a Jewish conspiracy?

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  • Appalled
    Mar 17, 2013 - 12:03AM

    The only valid point made is one which every dual national makes: remittances. However, being a dual national myself may I add that this valid point is also a fallacy. The remittance is made to people at home,for personal reasons. It is just by economic chance that it also helps the country. May I also add that it massively drives inflation? We can start by saying no to people who portray remittance as a form of tax or ‘sadqa’ for Pakistan’s benefit. It is purely for personal reasons.

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  • Parvez
    Mar 17, 2013 - 12:07AM

    I thought that was deliberately misleading, playing more on sentiment than fact.

    A person opts for dual nationality because he is disillusioned with his present nationality and wants another option. He has one leg in one boat and the other in another boat ready to jump if needed. For politicians ( law makers ) and senior government officials, who are held to a higher standard ,common sense and sound morals dictate that holding dual nationality is incorrect. When Bhutto ( senior ) imposed this he understood what he was doing and the logic holds even more true today.

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  • gp65
    Mar 17, 2013 - 1:13AM

    “In defence of dual nationals”
    Who is attacking them that you have to defend them. If dual nationals are not allowed to hold seats in parliament that hardly seems unreasonable.No reasonable person can deny the fact that the dual national does not have the same stake in Pakistan’s economy or law and order that someone with just a single PAkistani citizenship and living and Pakistan would. What is wrong if the eligibility norms of PArliament take this fact into account?

    “People forget that of the $12 billion remitted into Pakistan in 2012, a substantial portion was contributed by these dual nationals.”

    Not true. 70% came from KSA, UAE and GCC. Those are not dual nationals for sure. as for the remaining that came from North America, Europe and Australia perhaps half are citizens and others are on work visa and permanent residence. So only about 15% of the total amount came from dual nationals.

    Secondly, India got $70 billion from its expats in 2012 without giving the the rights that Pakistan gives its expats i.e. the right to vote, let alone membership to any elected body of representation i India. As someone living outside India, I am not offended by this nor does it reduce my love for India. Are you telling me that the people who currently send money to their friends and families back home will stop doing so because now they will be prohibited from becoming members of Pakistan’s parliament?

    “I, like many others in Pakistan, was extremely disturbed when the Supreme Court questioned Dr Tahirul Qadri’s right to challenge the constitution of the election commission on the ground that he holds Pakistani-Canadian citizenship.”

    I am not a big fan of your suo moto CJ. Having said that, the logic was clear, if you are not eligible to contest the election, what is your locus standii in a case pertaining to election commission constitution? At that point Qadri brought up the issue of Quo Warranto writ. The supreme court rightly said that quo warranto writs can only be raised in a high court not the Supreme court. Qadri was unable to establish his locus standii in the matter, so the petition was rightly rejected.

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  • rehmat
    Mar 17, 2013 - 1:17AM

    “Instead of attacking others for acquiring another nationality, we all need to respect their choices.”

    Every choice involves a trade off and they willingly knowingly trade off the right to contest Pakistani elections with greater economic opportunity and security of life. No one is stopping them from making this trade-off. choice is being respected.

    No one, including dual nationals, has the choice of having the cake and eating it too.

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  • BlackJack
    Mar 17, 2013 - 1:35AM

    My 2 cents: Many individuals continue to hold Pakistani passports because they are allowed dual citizenship, otherwise of the two, this would be the one that they would give up. Citizenship of Pakistan thus becomes one of convenience – you may love the country, but you will give it up the moment it becomes an impediment in receiving the benefits that your other citizenship provides. As I see it, you don’t need citizenship to love the land of your birth/ origin – India does not allow dual citizenship, yet the Indian lobby remains influential in the US/ UK and their continued interest in political developments in India continues to be extremely high.

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  • DevilHunterX
    Mar 17, 2013 - 2:48AM

    Majority of remittance does not even comes from Dual Nationals. They come from workers classes toiling away in the Middle East.

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  • umer
    Mar 17, 2013 - 1:36PM

    True ! but analogy with UK is not entirely correct in my opinion. There the law is supreme and does not allow any politician to contest election if he or she is corrupt even a white colored british born let alone a dual national (UK+PAK).

    In Pakistan, this allows a safe exit route to the corrupt parlimentarians of which according to ECP 70% does not pay tax or dont even have NTN.

    In mean time till corruption etc is not out of elite political club. Overseas Pakistanis should be given a right to vote to endorse their contribution to Pakistani Economy ! and once like UK once the law is supreme in Pakistan, a chance to contest election should be given to dual nationals and let the public decide on it.

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  • O B SERVER
    Mar 17, 2013 - 4:08PM

    @Fed Up Indian

    Lord Nazir is Kashmiri (Azad)!.

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  • M. Abrar Ameen
    Mar 17, 2013 - 8:40PM

    I respect Mr Ali Zafar a lot, having known him for years. But I do not agree with his push for the right of giving dual nationals a right in the formulation of our laws, or to be in the parliament. Reason is simple. We are a saleable nation. We sell our country’s interest to even a cheap bidder, let alone a highest one. It will take another 50 years for two successive generations to cleanse our system and body politic, of these dual-faced actors, who say one thing for the consumption of simpleton Pakistanis, but tell their masters to name their price for doing their bidding. This is not to say that all dual nationals should be suspect, but this should make us think about guarding ourselves against those who make a concerted push to gain this right to intrude on our parliament. That aim is highly suspect, and smells of mischief, therefore must be prevented. I fully support Supreme Court’s decision in this regard.

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  • Gp65
    Mar 17, 2013 - 10:47PM

    @O B SERVER: The 2 passports he carries are British and Pakistani – not Azad Kashmiri.

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  • In the know...
    Mar 18, 2013 - 2:24PM

    @gp65: You stole my pet rant!!! Thank you!!

    “People forget that of the $12 billion remitted into Pakistan in 2012, a substantial portion was contributed by these dual nationals.”

    Not true. 70% came from KSA, UAE and GCC. Those are not dual nationals for sure. as for the remaining that came from North America, Europe and Australia perhaps half are citizens and others are on work visa and permanent residence. So only about 15% of the total amount came from dual nationals.

    Secondly, India got $70 billion from its expats in 2012 without giving the the rights that Pakistan gives its expats i.e. the right to vote, let alone membership to any elected body of representation i India. As someone living outside India, I am not offended by this nor does it reduce my love for India. Are you telling me that the people who currently send money to their friends and families back home will stop doing so because now they will be prohibited from becoming members of Pakistan’s parliament?

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  • Dr. Qazi
    Mar 19, 2013 - 12:36AM

    Dual nationality does not mean disloyalty.

    Dual nationals from China, India, South Korea have acted as a bridge for trade and cultural exchange between the West and their countries of birth.

    I suggest, that political offices in Pakistan should be tied to the “residency” status for those who were born in Pakistan.

    If someone has a UK passport, but he/she is living in Pakistan for say 5 years (or whatever limit there is), have not committed a crime, worked with an employer, or ran a business, and paid taxes, then he should not be barred from taking part in the country’s politics.

    For example, the likes of Dr. Qadri or Altaf etc. should be asked for “residency” status of some years before they can be active in the politics. They should be asked about their job or business in Pakistan, and the tax status and not about them holding a UK or Canadian passport.

    Thank you

    Dr. Qazi

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  • gp65
    Mar 19, 2013 - 3:31AM

    @Dr. Qazi: “Dual nationality does not mean disloyalty.”

    Of course not and considering that dual nationals ae even allowed to vote, no on thinks they are disloyal.

    “Dual nationals from China, India, South Korea have acted as a bridge for trade and cultural exchange between the West and their countries of birth.”

    India gives less rights not more to people who have the OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card. They cannot vote in an Indian election. Holding any elected office is absolutely out of the question.

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  • Dr. Qazi
    Mar 19, 2013 - 7:38PM

    @gp65: India gives less rights not more to people who have the OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card

    It is good to see how overseas Indians, Chinese, South Koreans, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Americans, Canadians, British etc. get in terms of political activities. We should learn from the best practices of others. There is no doubt about it.
    However I respectfully add that we ought to look beyond India-specific debate. We should also check how many Indians really want to come back from USA/UK and become politicians. Then see if Indian courts would stop them from doing so. Even if they do, the essay under discussion is not about India and Indians.
    There is a lot more to this debate than just OCIs and NRIs. Let’s think out of the box and not try to throw baby out with the bath water.

    Thank you

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  • In the Know...
    Mar 20, 2013 - 10:11AM

    It is mind boggling indeed. Why is the love the Dual Nationals’ feel for their fatherland / grandfatherland directly related to their ability to participate in the political process of Pakistan? I am sure they yearn to see the changes necessary to bring Pakistan out of the current mess, but they need to leave it to those whom they have left behind, the full nationals of Pakistan.

    All those demanding full participation by Dual Nationals should reflect that if they were businessmen would they allow a Director of a Competitive Business on board of their own business. I doubt it. Even if they think that the person is fully above-board and extremely useful for his business, they would never allow them 100% access to their business information.

    In my own personal experience, I have seen that the love of the Pakistani Diaspora for their fatherland is unconditional. They would love to see Pakistan prosper and become a vibrant member of the world. However, they realize that they have opted out of being a Pakistani for personal gains and therefore their say in the things that matter in Pakistan are limited to stating their opinions and wishes. They are happy to leave Pakistan to the Pakistanis.

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