Association with the US has landed Dr Shakil Afridi a prison sentence of 33 years. It could also cost Ms Farahnaz Ispahani her seat in the National Assembly. Rehman Malik is groping for papers to prove that he has renounced British citizenship, something that the Supreme Court has so far refused to accept.
Duality in a puritan country, especially in times of heightened sensitivity about sovereignty, can lead to the end of an individual’s membership in the national parliament. However, it presents a good opportunity to flesh out a few layers about the many dimensions of citizenship in a globalised world.
What learned judges in Pakistan are doing through their judgments on dual citizenship is rehearsing script from, what Benedict Anderson, a leading American theorist of nationalism and author of the seminal book Imagined Communities (1983), terms the “classical nineteenth-century nationalist project — which aimed for the fullest alignment of habitus, culture, attachment, and exclusive political participation”. The second part of the 20th century saw the globe neatly carved into nation states and the two documents, birth certificate and passport, came to denote citizenship. Anderson considers the modern passport “counterfeit” in the sense that passports are “less and less attestations of citizenship, let alone of loyalty to a protective nation-state, than claims to participate in labour markets”.
For rich Pakistanis — who pretty much can buy American or Canadian passports — acquiring citizenship of a Western country is purchasing the right to flee Pakistan in case things do not turn out in their planned ways. Pakistanis who can afford this expensive insurance policy, through money or skills, of the right coloured passport avoid long lines at airports and other such inconveniences that a holder of the green passport is subjected to when travelling or living in the West.
This particular class of the rich and privileged from the Third World in the age of globalised capital operates armed with the iPhone, credit cards and electronic air tickets for transcontinental flights. How else does one explain a boy from a small town in India joining his brother in Karachi, marrying a Dutch woman and working in a Dutch lab, developing nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and exporting their parts to North Korea. Toryalai Wesa left Kandahar in 1991 became a Canadian national and returned to Kandahar as governor in 2009. Asma al-Assad, wife of the embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, was born and raised as a British national but now happens to be the first lady of the country that may be bombarded by British fighter jets.
Looking at dual citizenship as a sign of dual loyalty may be correct legally but says little about an individual’s relations with either the country of his birth or with the one he chose to become a naturalised citizen of. Such individuals are loyal to neither in the traditional sense of the word since in the law of any country loyalty means faithful allegiance to one’s lawful sovereign or government. Rich globetrotters from the third world carrying multiple passports are primarily concerned about their interests, and in this, citizenships and passports are merely a means of achieving convenience. Expecting complete loyalty from them to their country of birth or to the adopted land is an illusionary demand. Ms Ispahani, if she indeed withheld the information of her US citizenship, was not telling the inconvenient truth.
The Pakistani state allows, even encourages and lures, multiple citizenship holder Pakistanis residing in affluent countries to participate in Pakistani society as economic investors, and to be proverbial ambassadors of Pakistan in the country of their residence. All leading parties have their external wings where misaligned citizens have heated discussions on Pakistani politics in cosy living rooms in suburban America.
Oaths of citizenship in countries like the US and Canada have the imprint of the 19th century nationalist model demanding new entrants into the nation to abjure their past. But the reality is different. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is well within its rights to stick to the literal stipulations of oaths, whether that of US citizenship or of becoming a member of Pakistan’s parliament. But, we, analysts are interested in political and social practices where those who take the oath seldom remember what the contents of that oath were. Assembled in the halls where oath of citizenship are administered in the US, the new Americans are less interested in taking up arms for America and more in getting the passport that will allow them visa-free travel to destinations they have been wanting to visit. The Supreme Court has construed the wording in the oath of US citizenship as renouncing citizenship of Pakistan by someone born in Pakistan. The US Department of State website is more in tune with today’s labyrinth of dual nationality issue than the archaic oath of citizenship. It says: “The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time ... US law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another ... The US Government recognises that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it.”
Dual nationals occupying important political positions can be doubly accountable. Having the passport of an advanced industrial country is always a useful escape route when the going gets tough in one’s country of birth. When caught on the wrong foot, the privilege of dual citizenship can draw excessive and exacting demands of oath that ordinarily are violated in spirit by most members of parliament. Ms Ispahani made the choice of withholding information of her US citizenship for which she might pay a legal and political price in Pakistan. Thanks to her US passport, she can safely stay in the US as her lawyers sort the legal mess she has landed herself in. Few Pakistanis have that luxury.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2012.